Triumph of Innovation: Whitening Floss

Even casual observers of supermarket and drugstore shelves are aware that the oral hygiene aisles are a carnival of choices, a hotbed of innovation. (Here’s an earlier Slate shopping guide to the alleged properties of various toothpaste brands.) In response to a recent “Triumph of Innovation” installment  of “Moneybox,” I got an amusing e-mail from a reader about this. Jeff R. reported “staring at a supermarket display rack in disbelief” at the claim made by a new oral hygiene product: Johnson & Johnson’s Reach whitening dental floss (also available as tape) is “clinically proven to whiten between teeth.” Yes, that’s correct; this product’s claim is that it performs a cosmetic function between your teeth.

This weekend I noticed the same product at a local grocer. I bought it. I went home and flossed. Does it work? I have no idea. I can’t see between my teeth. Maybe it’s whiter in there. Maybe it isn’t.

The package says the between-teeth whitening powers of this product have been proven “in controlled clinical testing.” And then there’s an 800 number, which I called. I was informed by a Johnson & Johnson customer service person that it isn’t true that you can’t see between teeth: “You’d be able to see it, definitely.” Nevertheless, she also noted that 70 percent of stains “start” between teeth, so I guess the argument could be made that even if you can’t see the alleged whitening (which still I suggest is this case), you’re preventing the birth of stains that might spread out across the portions of your teeth that are actually visible. Anyway, she added that the floss is made of an “advanced nylon yarn,” coated with some sort of whitener. She encouraged me to give the product a try and assured me that Johnson & Johnson stands behind it.

I prefer a different brand of floss, called Glide, which makes no whitening promises. So I’ve given my Reach whitening floss to my girlfriend, who is a dedicated flosser. If I notice any results, I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, I am of course always interested in hearing about other triumphs of innovation, so if you have suggestions, send them via the e-mail address below.