Your dental floss might be exposing you to toxic chemicals

A new study has linked poor oral health to an increased risk of liver cancer.

New US research has found that flossing your teeth -- and certain other behaviors -- may increase exposure to the toxic chemicals linked with a variety of health problems.

Led by Silent Spring Institute in collaboration with the Public Health Institute in Berkeley, the new study looked at blood samples taken from 178 middle-aged women to measure the levels of 11 different PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals in the body.

The women, half of whom were non-Hispanic-white and the other half African-American, were also interviewed about nine behaviors that could potentially also lead to higher exposures.

The findings, published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology (JESEE), showed that women who flossed their teeth tended to have higher levels of a type of PFAS called PFHxS (perfluorohexanesulfonic acid) in their body compared with those who didn't, in particular when flossing with Oral-B Glide, one of 18 flosses included in the study.

In addition, all three of the Oral B Glide products included, plus three store brands, also tested positive for fluorine -- a marker of PFAS -- a finding also in line with previous reports that Glide is made using Teflon-like compounds.

The researchers also found that having stain-resistant carpet or furniture and living in a city with PFAS-contaminated drinking water supply were also behaviors linked to higher PFAS levels.

Among the African-American participants, those who frequently ate pre-prepared food that came in coated cardboard containers, such as French fries or takeout, also had elevated blood levels of four PFAS chemicals compared to women who rarely ate this type of food. However, the same relationship was not found among non-Hispanic whites, although the researchers are unable to explain why.

PFAS are water- and grease-proof substances that are used in a wide a range of consumer products, including fast food packaging, non-stick pans, waterproof clothing and stain-resistant carpets.

They have been linked with numerous health problems, including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, low birth weight, decreased fertility, and effects on the immune system. Exposure to the chemicals occurs through using products which contain PFAS, eating food that has been in contact with these products, exposure to indoor air and dust, and through drinking contaminated drinking water.

"This is the first study to show that using dental floss containing PFAS is associated with a higher body burden of these toxic chemicals," says lead author Katie Boronow, "The good news is, based on our findings, consumers can choose flosses that don't contain PFAS."

"Overall, this study strengthens the evidence that consumer products are an important source of PFAS exposure," adds Boronow. "Restricting these chemicals from products should be a priority to reduce levels in people's bodies."

Consumers can also reduce their exposure to the chemicals by modifying their behavior.