Dental floss can have potentially toxic effects not previously known

Dental floss can have potentially toxic effects not previously known
Dental floss can have potentially toxic effects not previously known

Dental floss can provide clean teeth and fresh breath, but it can also leave a mark on a potentially hazardous class of chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).


A new study by the California Institute of Public Health looked for forms of PFAS in the blood of volunteers, while asking about their habits and lifestyle. The results of the work were published in the journal Nature.

Just under a year ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency held a private meeting to review claims of high levels of PFAS in drinking water in 33 states. However, the researchers emphasize, drinking water is not the only potential source of these harmful substances. These compounds have been produced since the middle of the 20th century and are in demand for their water repellency almost everywhere: from upholstery fabrics to food packaging. Worse, PFAS is not easily degraded and can accumulate in animal tissues.

As soon as it became known that these and related classes of organic fluorides are found in significant quantities in the environment and in our own organisms, interest arose in their health effects. In recent decades, research has intensified, with scientists suggesting that elevated levels of these chemicals can lead to impaired immune function, liver damage, penetration through the placenta, affecting fetal development, and possibly exacerbating certain cancers. Researchers are especially concerned about the fact that the material is able to "cling" to proteins and accumulate in the liver and kidneys.

A new study by the California Institute of Public Health involved 178 women, half of whom were African American. They donated blood samples that were analyzed for signs of 11 different types of PFAS. Participants also provided detailed information about their lifestyle through structured interviews. The levels of two PFAS compounds - perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorohexanesulfonic acid - were found to be lower in African American participants than in the rest of the subjects, which the researchers said indicates different concentrations due to race. Frequent consumption of food from PFAS coated cardboard containers also increased levels of four compounds of these substances. Unsurprisingly, urban life with PFAS in water utilities also correlated with high levels of some species of the potential toxin.

But the most surprising source of these substances was dental floss.

Analysis of 18 different brands of filaments showed that fluorine levels indicated that PFAS was frequently used as coatings. In particular, several types of Oral-B Glide and two similar competitors were involved. According to study lead author Katie Boronow, this is the first study to show that the use of dental floss containing PFAS is associated with a higher body load of these toxic chemicals. However, the researchers emphasize that these results should not be taken as conclusive evidence that the presence of PFAS in dental floss leads to health problems - at least in and of itself.

“The good news is that based on our findings, consumers can choose strands that do not contain PFAS,” says Boronow.

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