Interdental brushes: an alternative to flossing — particularly for people with periodontitis

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Cleaning between teeth is essential for preventing plaque build-up, which can lead to gum disease (periodontitis) and other oral health concerns. And yet, brushing alone reaches only about 60% of the tooth area.  

So, what about those tricky-to-reach spaces in between teeth where plaque and bacteria can cling?

Plaque build-up in these areas can cause red and inflamed gums (gingivitis). You may notice blood when brushing your teeth. Or your gums might feel tender or swollen. Left unchecked, this accumulation of bacterial plaque can result in gum disease.

Read on to find out how interdental brushes can help keep plaque at bay. Plus, find out why they’re recommended for people with or at-risk of gum disease.

What are interdental brushes and why are they important?

The word ‘interdental’ means ‘between the teeth’. Interdental brushes have small, flexible heads. They are specially designed and come in different sizes to fit the gaps between your teeth.

Simply put, interdental brushes are an effective method of removing plaque (bacterial biofilm that coats the teeth) from areas of the mouth a toothbrush can’t fit.

The bristles on an interdental brush are soft and twisted (like a mascara brush). This helps them clean the gaps between your teeth—no matter how small the gaps are. Attached to the brush head is a short handle, making it easy to move it around the teeth and inside the mouth.

Interdental brushes are also called interproximal brushes. Although, people often call them by their brand name, such as TePe brush or Pikster.

Used daily, they help prevent plaque build-up. This reduces gum inflammation and lessens the risk of more serious, long-term dental conditions including periodontitis.

Tepe interdental brushes help us clean between the gaps between teeth where the toothbrush cannot reach.
Tepe interdental brushes are an effective method of removing plaque from areas of the mouth a toothbrush can’t fit. The bristles are soft and twisted which helps them clean the gaps between your teeth, no matter how small the gaps are.

Interdental brushes versus dental floss

In many cases, interdental brushing versus flossing is a matter of personal preference. However, people with gum disease have deeper, more visible grooves between the teeth and gums. In this case, your periodontist will suggest using  interdental brushes. This is because floss alone often won’t remove plaque from the grooves and concavities on the root surfaces of the teeth.

In addition, interdental brushes may be recommended for use with braces or for people with wider gaps between their teeth—as floss may have limited efficacy here.

Interdental brushes are also useful for cleaning around dental implants and under dental bridges. In fact, studies suggest interdental brushes may be better than dental floss at controlling plaque around teeth and implants.

How to choose the right size interdental brush

One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to dental brushes. Choosing the right size will ensure effective interdental cleaning. Here are some tips on finding the best size interdental brush for your needs.

  • Above all, the brush should fit snugly but comfortably between your teeth. If you can feel the metal brushing the edges of your teeth, go down a size. 
  • Never force the brush head between the teeth. 
  • Buying a mixed-size pack can be useful when starting out. With a little trial and error, you can find the best size brush for your mouth.
  • Most people will need at least two different sizes to clean teeth thoroughly.

The good news? Interdental brushes have colour-coded sizes to fit narrow as well as wide gaps. Once you find the right size, re-purchase is easy. Just be mindful, sizing may differ between brands. If switching brands, you may need to re-test to find the size that best fits your gaps.

Dentist assists patient to choose the right size of interdental brush.
Most people will need at least two different sizes of interdental brushes to clean their teeth thoroughly. These should fit snugly but comfortably between your teeth.

Easy step-by-step guide to using interdental brushes

Clean between your teeth at least once a day. Here’s a guide to getting the best results.

  1. Use the correct size brush and hold it between your thumb and index finger, while resting the remaining fingers on the chin.
  2. Line the head of the brush up with the gap in your teeth, close to the gumline.
  3. Push the brush through the gap and pull it back out. Repeat this in-and-out motion a few times for each tooth.
  4. Bend the brush at a 45-degree angle for easier access to back teeth. Or try a long-handled interdental brush with a pre-angled head.
  5. When finished, rinse the brush well. 

Look in the mirror to help you position the brush in the right place. If you have trouble fitting the brush in-between your teeth, it may be too big. Choose a smaller size brush, and you might consider flossing between some teeth that are closer together. Combining oral cleaning devices is fine.

When you first start cleaning between your teeth you may notice some bleeding. This should stop within a few days.

Final thought…

We find that 80% of damage from gum disease occurs in between the teeth, where a toothbrush can't reach. The key takeaway? By removing plaque, you reduce inflammation, and this helps manage gum disease — using an interdental brush is one of the most important ways of doing this.

Your dental practitioner can help determine the best size of interdental brush for your teeth, how to use it, and what to do if you notice blood.

Already mastered interdental cleaning? Don’t forget to make an appointment to visit EOPerio & Dental Implants regularly to help keep your oral health in check.

What interdental cleaning device is right for you?

Learn about the difference between dental floss and interdental brushes. Let us guide you on which device is best for your individual needs.

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