Dental Health Article by Dr Emma - "Clean In-between"

Dental Health

Apparently people will use anything and everything to clean between their teeth. At the garden variety end of the scale is dental floss. It's a great tool for interdental cleaning, but can be fiddly and annoying to use. At the more unusual end is the patient I saw who had a piece of a stick from his garden embedded so far under his gum that I had to surgically remove it. He'd been in his back yard and felt some food caught between his teeth, so snapped a bit of twig off a tree to try to clean it out.

I also clearly remember the flushed, embarrassed face of a mother whose daughter piped up during a dental appointment, "Mum flosses with rubber bands". I'm not sure why you'd make a habit of using things like twigs and rubber bands, but the good news is that you don't need to. There's a number of great interdental cleaning tools out there for the dental floss lovers and haters alike...

Floss on a stick

If you have trouble managing a tangle of floss around your fingers, or can't seem to reach your back teeth, then look for a "floss on a stick" solution (also known as floss picks). There are various forms and brands of plastic handles with a small piece of floss held tight across one end, a little bit like Bart Simpson's slingshot. They are semi-disposable, in that you can rinse them and re-use a few times until the floss breaks. There's lots of different brands with their own design, so try a few out. Long handles, short handles, floss at different angles - there's a solution out there that will work best for you. There's even an attachment for an electric toothbrush if you like your floss to gently vibrate while you clean.
A more eco-friendly option is a floss handle. These have a similar Y-shaped design, but you wind your own regular floss across the top of the "Y" and re-use the handle again and again.

Interdental brushes 

If you have larger gaps between your teeth that the floss seems to get lost in, try interdental brushes. These come in various sizes, and look like a tiny bottle brush. They are very effective at removing plaque and food debris from between teeth. Interdental brushes won't however clean the "contact point" where two teeth touch, flossing is the only way to do that.


Toothpicks aren't much good for plaque removal. They'll do for getting annoying bits of food out, but can't wipe plaque off as efficiently as floss. There's also a risk of breakage and lodging bits of wood, plastic or rubber between your teeth. 

Irrigation systems

Oral irrigators look similar to an electric toothbrush, but have a tip that squirts water or mouthwash from a reservoir in a fine jet which you can angle between your teeth. Research has shown that they are just as effective at reducing gingivitis as flossing, when combined with tooth brushing. Irrigation is certainly better than no interdental cleaning at all, but it's not necessarily any easier or better than flossing.

A very careful technique has to be used to get maximum benefit. They can be a little messy, but they can also be quite fun to use.

It's easy to dismiss it as being only for oral hygiene overachievers, but interdental cleaning is just as important as brushing. Plaque accumulates and needs to be removed from all surfaces of your teeth, not just the bits that are easy to get at. When choosing which tool is going to work best for you, the answer is easy. The one that you actually use!

Dr Emma

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Important: This article is general advice only. For further advice or information on this topic, please consult your health professional.


Category: Dental Health

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