the Australian Dental Association
Written by the Australian Dental Association, Aug 18, 2022
Fact Checked

Cleaning between the teeth is known as 'interdental cleaning'. This should be a key part of daily dental health routines for both children and adults. It is just as important as toothbrushing for your oral health.

Interdental cleaning is often referred to as 'flossing' because flossing has always been the most common method. Do you have to floss to clean between teeth? Not necessary, as there are multiple ways to perform this cleaning. These include using string floss, flossettes, interdental brushes, an electric flosser or a water flosser.

80% of Australian adults report brushing their teeth two or more times daily. However, only 25% of adults report cleaning between teeth daily. Failing to clean food particles and bacteria that collect in these spaces can lead to the development of gum disease or tooth decay. This means that 3 out of 4 adults aren't doing all they can to look after their bright smile.
 

What is dental plaque?

Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the surface of the teeth. It can build up both above and below the gums. It can make teeth ‘feel fuzzy’ when they have not been brushed. If plaque is not cleared away, it can lead to gum disease.

When should you clean between your teeth?

How many times should I floss a week? The Australian Dental Association recommends cleaning between your teeth at least once per day. People with gum disease may need to clean between their teeth more often.

Some people prefer flossing before brushing, others prefer doing so after brushing. The most important thing is that you clean these spaces every day.

Why does cleaning between my teeth cause my gums to bleed?

Cleaning between your teeth may cause your gums to bleed, especially if you do not do it regularly. Not cleaning the plaque build-up away from these spaces can cause the delicate gum tissue to become inflamed and it may bleed when stimulated by flossing.

This bleeding does not mean you should stop cleaning between your teeth. It actually may mean you need to floss your teeth more often. If your gums continue to bleed, even with good daily flossing, it is best to see your dentist to make sure you know how to floss your gums correctly and there are no other causes for the bleeding.

Remember, healthy gums do not bleed.

How to floss your teeth

It is important to floss correctly so that food and plaque from between your teeth is cleared away. Your dentist can provide a hands-on demonstration of proper flossing techniques but here are some basic tips you can follow:

  1. Take approximately 30 - 45 cm of floss and wind it around your middle fingers on each hand. Hold the floss so that the string is tight and use your thumbs and index fingers to control it.
  2. Gently slide the dental floss between the teeth.
  3. Use a gentle up and down motion to rub the floss along the side of each tooth. The floss will be able to go slightly under the gums to remove the plaque from this area also.
  4. Remove the used floss and then move on to the next space using a new section of floss or rinsing the string on a flossette under running water
Learning how to floss well is an essential part of any healthy dental care routine.

Flossettes

A dental floss pick or flossette is an alternative to string floss. Flossettes have a handle with a curve at one end that holds a piece of dental floss. These can be helpful for:

  • parents when flossing children's teeth,
  • children learning to clean between their own teeth correctly,
  • adults who have trouble reaching into their own mouth, or
  • people with decreased fine motor skills.
 
  • Up-close,-woman-using-flossette-(2).jpg

An example of one type of flossette being used to clean between the teeth. Getty Images.

At what age should children begin flossing?

Parents should begin flossing their children's teeth once they have at least two teeth touching side-by-side. This is often around age 2. Flossettes can be useful to reach into your child's mouth for flossing.

It is helpful to have your child lying on or across your lap or on a bed as this can help you to see and reach into their mouth. You can even try standing behind your child with their head tilted slightly back.

As children get older and their fine motor skills improve, they can begin flossing themselves. A good guide for the age this can start is when your child gets their 'pen license' at school.

Interdental brushes

Interdental brushes are a practical, easy-to-use alternative to flossing. Their look similar to a tiny bottle brush. These brushes include a short handle that is attached to a thin, flexible wire that is covered in soft bristles. They work by helping to clear away the food, plaque and bacteria between the teeth. The brushes come in a range of sizes and each brush can be used multiple times before being thrown in the bin.

Interdental brushes may be more effective than regular dental floss for cleaning between all your teeth. They can be helpful for people with braces, fine motor issues, or large spaces between the teeth where floss cannot fill the gap properly. Interdental brushes can be a good option for people who just don't like using floss.

If you have braces and find using dental floss tricky, interdental brushes can be a great option to clean between the teeth as well as the brackets and wire.

An interdental brush being used to clean between the teeth. Getty Images.
 

How to choose the correct size interdental brush

Interdental brushes come in a range of sizes. The correct size will provide you with the most benefit. The bristles should fit firmly but comfortably between the teeth and should not be forced. Only light pressure should be needed to push the brush between teeth.

The spaces between your teeth can vary in size so you may need to use a different brush size for different areas of the mouth.

If you are unsure about which size interdental brush you should use, your dentist can tell you as well as show you how to use them.
 

Interdental brushing technique

Your dentist can provide hands on advice on how to use an interdental brush correctly but here are some basic tips you can follow:

  1. Remove the plastic cap from the brush.
  2. Hold the interdental brush between your thumb and index finger.
  3. Gently insert the brush into the triangular-shaped space between the teeth with a gentle twist or wriggling action.
  4. Push the brush through the space and then pull it back out. Do this a few times for each space.
  5. Rinse the brush bristles with water after cleaning each space.
  6. You may wish to gently curve the wire to get better access to certain areas. This is a particularly good method for how to floss back teeth.
  7. Once finished, rinse the bristles and place the plastic cap back on.
 
Caring for your interdental brush

Most interdental brushes can be used multiple times before they need to be thrown away. After each use, the bristles should be rinsed well with water and the cap should be placed back on. When the bristles begin to look worn or the wire is bent or twisted, it is time to replace your interdental brush with a new one.

Avoid toothpicks

Toothpicks are not recommended to clean between teeth. Regular and rough use of toothpicks may cause gum damage. The toothpick can also break, splinter and get stuck in the gums. They can even wear away teeth with long-term use. There are many better options for removing plaque.

Summary

Cleaning between your teeth is a very important part of your daily oral health routine. It should be done at least once every day.

There are many options to use for cleaning between your teeth, including floss, flossettes, interdental brushes and water flossers. Your dentist can provide advice on the best product to help keep your teeth and gums healthy and the correct technique to use.

Once you start and continue to clean between your teeth regularly, you will notice how great your mouth feels!