- Brushing only removes about 50% of plaque
- Brushing and cleaning in-between the teeth remove about 75% of plaque
- Most cavities start between the teeth
- Less than half of patients who floss do it correctly
When it comes to good oral hygiene, you may think that brushing and using mouth rinse gets the job done. But teeth have five sides, brushing only cleans three. Cleaning in-between the teeth is vital – to remove food particles and bacteria that get ‘trapped’ in the interdental spaces between your teeth.
Don’t clean in-between? You are not alone. Research indicates only a third of South Africans floss or clean in-between regularly.
To help you choose the winning side – here’s expert advice to ‘ace that space’.
4 Benefits of cleaning in-between
Healthy gums: if not removed, plaque can build up between the teeth and irritate the gums, eventually causing gum disease. If your gums bleed when you floss, you may already have gum disease. This means it’s more important than ever to clean your teeth and gums correctly. And if you do have bleeding gums it’s probably a good idea to see your dental professional.
Fresh breath: for a truly clean mounth you have to ace that space. If you don’t remove plaque and food debris between the teeth, they can cause bad breath (aka halitosis). Want proof? Pull a piece of dental floss between two teeth at the back of your mouth, then sniff the floss. If you don’t usually clean in-between, it won’t smell very good – just like your breath.
Cavity protection: dental professionals say that most decay begins between the teeth. Cleaning the interproximal spaces between your teeth helps prevent cavities and tooth decay.
Better health: poor oral health has been linked to many serious diseases including diabetes, heart disease, pre-term and low-birthweight babies. Taking good care of your mouth is good for your whole body health.
Who needs to clean in-between?
Everyone! Including Dental professionals recommend cleaning in-between the teeth every day as part of an effective oral hygiene routine. For healthy smiles think 1, 2, 3 – brush correctly twice a day, clean in-between once a day and rinse for extra fresh breath confidence.
Children should clean in-between once their teeth begin to touch one another. This is often around the time their permanent teeth appear. Flossing can be a little awkward for younger children, but there are a variety of interdental tools that are easier to handle, such as Sunstar GUM Easy-Flossers that have floss on a tiny handle. By starting young you will help your children develop good oral care habits for life.
Braces, bridges or implants? If you have bridges, implants or orthodontic braces, cleaning correctly maybe a little more difficult, but it is extremely important. With the correct interproximal tools, it will be easier. Sunstar GUM has excellent options, particularly for people with braces, bridges and implants. Here’s a 45-second video demonstrating how to clean orthodontic braces correctly.
How to floss like a boss
Traditional floss is a popular and effective way to clean in-between when used correctly. Unfortunately, experts say that most people don’t have a good flossing technique.
Here’s how to ‘floss like a boss’ for a clean, fresh, healthy mouth:
1) Take about 30cm of floss
2) Wind the floss around your middle fingers
3) Hold the floss between your thumbs and index fingers
4) Slide the floss in-between teeth using a gentle back-and-forth sawing action
5) Fold floss around the side of a tooth in a C-shape
7) Repeat on the neighbouring tooth
8) Pull out and repeat using a clean section of the floss
This 45-second video demonstrated correct flossing technique – is this how you’ve been doing it? If floss isn’t the best option for you, don’t worry, there are other interdental options.
Interdental tools to Ace that Space
If you are not comfortable about flossing, don’t despair. With the right tools, cleaning in-between will be quick and easy, and efficiently remove plaque and food debris stuck in-between your teeth.
There is a wide variety of interdental tools available these days, sold at dentists, pharmacies and even the local supermarket. You’re bound to find something you fall in love with. Whether you floss like a boss, love the rush of an interdental brush or enjoy a quick pick – you can find the perfect interdental match
Choosing the right interdental product
If you’re in the habit of flossing and doing it correctly, carry on flossing. It is a very effective way to clean plaque and food particles from between the teeth and below the gum line. According to oral hygienist Dirna Grobbelaar, less than half of patients who floss regularly do it correctly. Check if your technique is spot-on by watching this video or asking your dentist or oral hygienist.
If you have teeth that are close together, misaligned or overlapping, traditional string floss may be the only or best option. You’ll struggle to fit an interdental brush or toothpick between your teeth.
WATCH: how to floss video
If you have orthodontic braces use GUM Ortho Floss with floss threader. It will take time, but is a very effective way to clean your braces thoroughly. You will get quicker with practice.
WATCH: how to floss braces video
If you find it difficult to floss correctly, or manage floss around your fingers, try floss on a handle. Children and people with limited dexterity (eg. from arthritis) will find tools Sunstar GUM Easy Flossers or the GUM Flosbrush Automatic much easier to use.
WATCH: tools for flossing video
Interdental or interproximal brushes and small brushes are designed specifically to clean in-between the teeth and around orthodontic braces, bridges and implants. They are effective at removing plaque and food debris and easier to use than floss.
Interdental brushes are ideal for people with wider space between the teeth, food traps (i.e large space between teeth where food becomes trapped) and people with braces.
For best results and to prevent damaging the teeth or gums, ideally use interdental brushes that have antibacterial bristles and coated wire. For example, Sunstar GUM Trav-ler interdental brushes are flexible interdental brushes in 9 different sizes. Sunstar GUM Bi-Direction has a unique bendable head which allows you to reach even the trickiest, most hard-to-reach spaces.
WATCH: tools for flossing video.
Traditional wooden toothpicks are still popular tools for removing trapped food, but they are not particularly effective at removing plaque and can cause gum recession if used over a long period of time. These days there are high-tech versions available like Sunstar GUM Soft-Picks which are flexible and have tapered rubber bristles to clean in-between more effectively.
WATCH: tools for flossing video
Floss and interdental brushes mechanically remove plaque as they scrub or scrape the surface of the tooth. Oral irrigators, use water and even air, to clean. Whilst not as effective as mechanical plaque removal, they are easy to use and a good option for anyone who won’t manage daily flossing or cleaning in-between with an interdental brush or pick.
They are helpful for children with braces and cleaning implants. Look for the Panasonic Oral Irrigator which uses water or the Phillips Sonicare AirFloss which uses air.
Cleaning orthodontic braces
If you wear orthodontic braces, cleaning the teeth is more complicated, including cleaning in-between the teeth. As well as cleaning all 5 sides of each tooth (front, back, top and sides) you also need to clean around the brackets and wires.
When to clean in-between
According to dental professionals, it doesn’t matter if you clean in-between in the morning or night. The main thing is that you do it – choose a time that suits you best. With the correct tools, it will only take a minute or two to ace that space.
Brush or floss first? The jury is out and it doesn’t seem to matter. In the 2019 Oral Health Routine Survey of 222 South African dental professionals, about half said brush first and the other half said floss. What they did agree on unanimously is that patients should clean in-between every day.
Oral care tip: floss first and you’ll see the evidence of what’s removed more easily. This will encourage you to continue to clean in-between.
Flossing fact and fiction
2) Everybody should floss or clean in-between – TRUE
3) Kids don’t need to floss – FALSE
4) You shouldn’t floss if your gums bleed – FALSE
5) If you have large hands or fingers you won’t be able to floss – FALSE
6) Floss should be held between the thumb and index finger – FALSE
7) Floss should be held between the middle fingers – TRUE
8) One size fits all – FALSE
9) My teeth are too close together so I don’t need to clean in-between – FALSE
How to fix common interdental issues
1) PROBLEM: Flossing is too awkward — SOLUTION: use floss on a handle, interdental brushes or an oral irrigator
2) PROBLEM: I don’t have time to clean in-between — SOLUTION: using the right tools makes correct cleaning in-between, quick and easy
3) PROBLEM: I forget to clean in-between — SOLUTION: do it at the same time each day as part of your daily oral care routine
4) PROBLEM: My gums bleed — SOLUTION: See your dental professional for a check-up and professional clean then maintain a meticulous oral care routine