A new study claims Oral-B dental floss may be exposing you to toxic PFAS chemicals.

Share on Pinterest
Is the floss you’re using safe? Getty Images

Oral-B Glide and similar competitor flosses can expose consumers to toxic chemicals, concludes a new study.

The authors of the study say this is the first time that the use of certain varieties of dental floss is associated with higher concentrations of chemicals known as PFAS, or polyfluoroalkyl substances.

PFAS is an umbrella term for a group of related man-made chemicals used in many different consumer products.

PFAS have been produced since the 1940s and are used in everything from cookware and electronics to fast food wrappers and paints.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency consider PFAS a source of potential toxic exposure for humans.

“A study like this highlights some pretty specific, and I would say surprising, sources of chemical exposure,” Dr. Ken Spaeth, chief of environmental medicine at Northwell Health in New York, told Healthline.

“I think it’s fair to say that most people think of their dental floss as benign and not a source of chemical exposure, so I think on a lot of levels, academically, but also on the level of educating consumers, this is an interesting study,” said Spaeth, who is not affiliated with the research.

In the study, researchers looked at several suspected behavioral and lifestyle factors that could potentially affect PFAS exposure in a group of 178 middle-aged women, about half of whom were African-American.

These included whether or not participants used nonstick cookware, ate microwave popcorn, used Oral-B Glide dental floss, or ate fast food packaged in cardboard containers.

Some of these behaviors (consumption of fast food, floss usage) were associated with higher levels of serum PFAS, while others (use of nonstick cookware and consuming microwave popcorn) were not.

PFAS are highly prized in certain industries for their “nonstick” or slippery properties.

Teflon, a famous brand of material used to create nonstick cookware is derived from polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), part of the family of PFAS chemicals.

‘Glide’ flosses are also made using PTFE.

Despite widespread use, PFAS exposure in humans is associated with numerous adverse health outcomes, including kidney and testicular cancer, decreased semen quality, and ulcerative colitis.

PFAS are also endocrine disrupting chemicals, meaning they affect the body’s hormone production. This can result in learning, behavioral, and growth problems in children. They can also affect fertility in both men and women.

“Once they are in the body, they hang around for a few years. That’s one of the concerns. It’s not the kind of thing that if you get it inside of you that it’s gone within a couple of hours. It can hang around for quite some time. Obviously the more you’re exposed, the higher the levels can be,” said Spaeth.

In response to the study, Oral-B denied in a statement to USA Today that they found any toxic substances in their product.

“Our dental floss undergoes thorough safety testing and we stand behind the safety of all our products,” the company said.

It should be made clear, however, that not all flosses contain PFAS.

Oral-B Glide and similar competitors represent only one variety.

In the study, researchers screened 18 different floss products for the chemical fluorine as an indicator of PFAS. Only 6 of the 18 flosses tested positive for fluorine — meaning that two-thirds were free of PFAS.

“Historically, the traditional floss has been around a long time. It’s made out of dakron and wax and it’s quite effective,” said Ronald P. Uilkie, DDS, a practicing dentist based in New Mexico. “However, compliance among patients for flossing has always been poor and dismal. In an effort to increase compliance, this ‘glide’ floss has been developed because of the very nature of the material: it’s slippery, it’s slick, and it’s able to pass through the teeth more readily, with greater ease.

He added, “They’ve really become very popular very quickly. They are popular among staff and patients, because in reality, it is easier to floss with them.”

Uilkie is now concerned that this study could undermine the work it has taken over the years to get people to floss, despite the fact that most flosses do not contain any PFAS chemicals.

“Some people are going to use this as an excuse to stop flossing again. There needs to be some notice here that traditional flosses do not pose this health issue and therefore flossing with them is still recommended,” he said.