For a while now it has been known that some dental floss, such as Oral-B Glide, contain harmful chemical compounds called PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), similar to Teflon. These chemicals have all sorts of negative health effects, and are referred to as "forever chemicals" because they stick around.
A recent investigation by ehn.org (Environmental Health News) and Mamavation (a health/wellness site) tested 39 different brands of dental floss for PFAS by an EPA-certified laboratory. They found evidence of PFAS in one third of the samples, with levels ranging from 11 parts per million (ppm) to 248,900 ppm. Yup, it was Oral-B Glide with the incredibly high levels of PFAS.
These PFAS chemical compounds are linked to all sorts of health problems (e.g. kidney and testicular cancer, semen quality, thyroid disease, immune system effects, reproductive problems, and lowered sex and growth hormones in children) - so you want to avoid them if possible.
It turns out these chemicals are shed into the person's mouth when flossing if the floss contains PFAS, and can be measured in a person's blood.
The four floss brands with extremely high levels (over 70,000 ppm) were: Oral B Glide, Up & Up (Target brand) Smooth Slide Floss, Colgate Total Waxed Dental Floss, and Solimo (Amazon brand) Extra Comfort Dental Floss.
One piece of good news: No dental (tooth) floss marketed to children that they tested had indications of PFAS forever chemicals.
Bottom line: avoid non-stick smooth dental floss such as Oral-B Glide dental floss (or when the dental floss label brags that it is similar to Glide dental floss). Use plain waxed or unwaxed floss instead (e.g., Reach Waxed Floss, Tom's of Maine Floss). Look at the investigation results for brands to avoid and better choices.
From Environmental Health News (EHN.org): Tests find PFAS abundant in some dental floss
That nice waxy glide as you floss your teeth? Turns out it could be courtesy of PFAS, the "forever chemicals" that hijacks hormones and is linked to reproductive problems, birth defects, testicular cancer and a host of other diseases.
Mamavation, the wellness site, and EHN.org tested 39 different brands of floss for PFAS and found evidence of the chemical in one third of the samples. Levels ranged from 11 parts per million, or ppm, to 248,900 ppm.
Four products had more than 70,000 ppm, or 7 percent, PFAS, with Oral-B Glide testing at 248,900 ppm, or nearly 25 percent.
PFAS is a family of nearly 12,000 chemicals used to make products, like Teflon, slippery. It's also found in stain-resistant carpeting and fabrics, cosmetics and firefighting foam.
PFAS are in the blood of nearly all Americans, and testing of umbilical cord blood and breast milk indicates that exposure begins before birth. Some PFAS bioaccumulate — build up — which means even low exposures are cause for concern over time as our bodies accumulate more and more of them.
Companies and trade associations like the American Dental Association should "stop approving of any dental product that contains any forever PFAS compound," said Terry Collins, Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry & Director of Institute for Green Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. "They should start educating their members about the insidious nature of low dose adverse effects from endocrine-disrupting chemicals."
While many are aware of PFAS pollution in water, the testing finds that we’re also exposed by the things we wear or eat. The testing highlights the dangerous unknowns in many U.S. supply chains, as many brands are not intentionally adding PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which contribute to cancer, reproductive and immune systems damages, elevated cholesterol and other health issues.
It’s not all bad news: many products tested clean. In this guide you can quickly find PFAS-free products and those that were contaminated.
Mamavation's floss report ranked products by category – "Not our favorite," "Better" and "Best" – with smaller, "eco" companies like Tom's of Maine, the Humble Co., and Desert Essence falling into the latter.
Mamavation also tested several flosses marketed for children and found no evidence of PFAS in any samples.
Should you stop flossing? "Absolutely not," Segedie said. Dentists recommend flossing to keep teeth free from food debris, decay, dental plaque, gingivitis, periodontal disease, gum disease and bad breath.