Dental floss manufacturers coat their products in a Teflon-like substance that contains highly toxic PFCs. Learn how to find a safer, natural alternative.
When you think about reducing chemical exposure at home, dental floss probably doesn’t pop into your mind. Floss (or dental tape) is an important part of one’s oral hygiene routine, as it gets into the tight spaces where a toothbrush can’t reach, but floss has a major downside.
Many manufacturers coat dental floss in a Teflon-like substance that contains PFCs – perfluorinated polymers that are used to make materials stain- and stick-resistant (think Scotchgard, Gore-Tex, and Stainmaster, all of which contain PFCs). The PFCs in dental floss help it to glide easily between teeth and reduce bleeding between gums, making the flossing experience much more pleasant, but it raises other questions.
PFCs are notorious chemical contaminants. Researchers have linked human exposure to PFCs with thyroid disease, hormone instability, immune system damage, ADHD, impaired reproduction, and fetal development problems.
Dominique Browning writes for TIME that PFCs have joined the ranks of PCBs, DDT, and others:
“They were once thought to be inert chemicals, made of essentially indestructible bonds. No longer. They are extraordinarily persistent once they enter our environment, and some are now being found to be toxic.”
Flossing with PFCs leaves traces of the chemicals behind in your mouth, where they can get absorbed into your body, particularly if you’re doing it once or twice a day for many years. Throwing away used floss that contains PFCs transfers them to the environment – to a landfill site or a waterway where the floss eventually ends up.
Most conventional flosses are made from nylon, a petroleum product with a very slow decay rate, which means that every piece of floss ever used hangs around on Earth for a long time.
Choose a safer solution:
- Opt for a non-PFC-coated floss. You’ll have to get away from the big manufacturers for this, since many don’t want to reveal “proprietary secrets” and prefer to keep things vague.
- Look for natural waxed floss, such as this floss made by Tom’s of Maine that is made with beeswax (although the company is now owned by Colgate). Desert Essence also sells a Tea Tree floss that is naturally waxed. Most conventional waxed flosses are made with a petroleum-based synthetic product.
- Consider packaging. Eco-Dent sells vegan-waxed floss that comes in a cardboard box.
- Use real silk floss that is fully biodegradable, made by Radius.
- Opt for Radius’ vegan xylitol floss.
You can also:
- Use less floss; be careful not to take more than you need.
- Consider reusing floss. Give it a good scrub after using and let dry.
- Pull silk threads from a scarf. (This is what Béa Johnson of the Zero Waste Home recommends.)
- Find an alternative. There are air flossers, water flossers, and rubber-tipped dental picks.