Confession time: Despite dentist recommendations, it wasn’t until my early 30s that I began flossing regularly.
Part of my hesitation was that most brands of dental floss were uncomfortable for me to use. I don’t have much space between my teeth, and most flosses proved difficult to wedge in — and often got stuck. Not fun at all.
I generally buy natural hygiene products, including soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste. But the only floss I’ve found that seems to slide easily between my teeth is Oral B Glide. Despite some of my misgivings, I believed it was better for my overall health to be flossing than not. Plus, I figured if most everything else I use was natural, I would probably be in decent shape even if I veered off course with my dental floss.
So, I bought Oral B Glide — or a store-brand knock-off — religiously for almost a decade.
A week ago, however, I came across a frightening study that threw my whole plan into question — and is finally convincing me to me toss every last container of Oral B into the trash and do some serious searching for a more natural alternative.
The study — led by Silent Spring Institute in collaboration with the Public Health Institute in Berkeley, CA, and published in the January 2019 edition of Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology — discovered that certain brands of dental floss contribute to elevated levels of PFAS chemicals in the body.
And yes, Oral B is the leading brand that contributes to elevated PFAS, according to the study. Big sigh.
PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are water and grease-proof substances used in numerous consumer products. In addition to dental flosses, PFASs are included in products such as non-stick pans, waterproof clothing, fast-food packaging, and stain-resistant carpets. They are also found in dust and drinking water.
According to the study, scientists are concerned about the effects of widespread exposure to PFAS because of their link to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol levels and detrimental effects on the immune system. PFASs have also been correlated with decreased fertility and low-birth weights.
To determine the association between dental floss and PFAS elevation in the body, the researchers took blood samples from 178 middle-aged women enrolled in the Public Health Institute’s Child Health and Development Studies, measuring the levels of 11 types of PFAS in the samples.
The women were interviewed about nine different behaviors that might influence their levels of PFAS, including flossing habits. They found that the women who said they flossed with Oral B Glide had higher levels of a PFAS called PFHxS (perfluorohexanesulfonic acid) compared to their counterparts who did not buy this brand.
At that point, the researchers investigated further, testing 18 brands of dental floss for fluorine, a marker of PFAS. Three Glide products, as well as two store-brand flosses with “compare to Oral-B Glide” labels, tested positive for fluorine.
“This is the first study to show that using dental floss containing PFAS is associated with a higher body burden of these toxic chemicals,” said lead author Katie Boronow, a staff scientist at Silent Spring, in a press release about the study.
Boronow made the point that it isn’t just about dental floss, either. We need to be aware of the fact that many common consumer products contain PFAS, and we should be mindful about limiting our exposure.
“Restricting these chemicals from products should be a priority to reduce levels in people’s bodies,” said Boronow.
Soon after I saw the study, a friend shared it on Facebook. It turns out I am not alone. Many of us chimed in saying Oral B was the only dental floss we’d found to work for us. It’s interesting to note, too, that although we all had suspicions about the potential for toxic chemicals in Oral B, most of us were unaware of just how dangerous it might be.
I suspect this might be because it’s very hard to find out what the heck is in Oral B. Just now I went to my medicine cabinet and examined the packaging of my Oral B. There were no ingredients listed at all! I couldn’t find any ingredients listed on the Oral B website either.
I trust the research, though. Clearly Oral B has some toxic ingredients in it, and exposure to them does not seem worth the risk. I am not going to trash all my dental floss without a good alternative, however.
Flossing is important for dental hygiene and can help our mouths feel more comfortable. On the days I don’t floss, my teeth feel icky.
I believe there must be a floss out there that will fit between my ridiculously narrow teeth — and now, more than ever, I’m determined to find it. I’ve heard wonderful things about Public Good’s natural silk floss and will be adding it to my cart to try.
I suppose the only silver lining to reading an anxiety-inducing study such as this is that it has the potential to get you to change your ways and make healthier choices … even if it takes you a decade to do so.
We reached out to Procter & Gamble, the manufacturer of Oral B, for their reaction to the study.
Here is the statement they gave us:
“We have confirmed none of the substances in the report are intentionally used in our dental floss. The safety of the people who use our products is our top priority. We stand behind the safety of all our products.”
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