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.