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Which interdental cleaner is right for me?

Updated: Mar 4

Brushing your teeth is not enough to maintain healthy gums. You need to remove plaque in order to have healthy gums and teeth. This includes removing plaque from between your teeth where your toothbrush can't reach. Gum disease is the most common dental problem and can become serious to the point of tooth loss if not arrested. Prevention is the key to fighting gum disease and saving your teeth. This is why using interdental cleaners, such as floss and interdental brushes, is an essential part of a good oral health routine for both adults and kids. Parents and caregivers should start flossing their child’s teeth as soon as at least two teeth are touching each other. The anatomy of the space between teeth sets up the perfect environment for plaque to accumulate and for bacteria to thrive, thereby creating disease of the gum and tooth tissue.

Not sure which interdental cleaners are best for your teenage son who has braces? Want an alternative to flossing? Wondering if irrigation devices are useful? When it comes to figuring out what will work best for each person, ask your dentist! Your dentist will consider your manual dexterity, any physical disabilities, your age, the health of your gum tissue, and your overall health, as well as the existence of dental appliances and any dental work. There are A LOT OF OPTIONS, so if you get lost in all of this, ask your dentist who knows you and your mouth best!

Dental floss:

There are many types of this interdental product used to clean between the teeth and below the gum line, commonly made from 35 strands of nylon that have been twisted together. With waxed floss, the standard nylon floss is covered with a light wax coating. This waxed form is less likely to break, but the wax coating may make it harder to use in tight spaces, and some complain that a waxy residue is left behind on their teeth. Unwaxed floss is ideal for flossing in tight areas, but it can be prone to shredding and breakage. Dental tape is a broader and flatter form of standard floss and can be waxed or unwaxed. It is ideal for those with teeth that are more spaced. Super floss is made from yarn-like material with a stiffer end, making it easier to clean under bridges and around braces/wires. Floss threaders are useful for cleaning around bridges, implants and orthodontic braces and retaining wires. The floss threader is a nylon device that looks like a needle, and the floss is the thread that is inserted into the “eye” of the floss threader. The floss threader carries the floss between the teeth and around bridges, implants and orthodontic appliances. Some floss products are made from the same material used to make Gore-Tex fabric products. This allows for easier flossing in extremely tight areas between the teeth, and the likelihood of shredding is reduced. Overall, flossing is simple, portable, inexpensive, and very effective for the majority of people. A certain degree of manual dexterity and two clean hands are needed to achieve the maximum benefit of plaque removal below the gum line. And, since it is rather technique-sensitive so any compromise reduces its effectiveness, it's important to make sure your dentist or dental hygienist reviews the proper technique with you!

Wooden stimulators/ wedges and toothpicks:

These are often used after meals to remove food caught between the teeth and to stimulate the gums. Be careful, however, as using standard toothpicks can damage the gum tissue and carry bacteria, reintroducing it from one area in the mouth to the next. And even though they are simple and easy to use, they’re of limited use in removing plaque and can splinter if used too aggressively. These interdental tools can be used with one hand, and if used properly they are a good addition to flossing, but are not a replacement. They are really only helpful for people who have areas where food easily catches between their teeth.

Rubber-tipped stimulators:

Consisting of a rubber tip attached to the end of a metal or plastic handle, these devices remove plaque in between the teeth, and stimulate and massage gums. They’re easy to use with one hand, and while they’re less effective at removing material from between the teeth, they are excellent tools to improve the health of the gums in chronically irritated areas, especially from orthodontic appliances, compromised fillings, and dentures. In addition, they’re often used following gum surgery, as they have the ability to reshape the gum in between the teeth.

Floss picks:

These convenient plastic devices have a small piece of floss between two posts at one end and often an interdental pick at the other end. Floss picks can be used with one hand, so not as much manual dexterity is required as with conventional floss. However, they may be more difficult to use in areas where spacing is tight. And due to their inflexible design, the floss can’t be wrapped around the whole tooth surface in between the teeth and therefore some plaque/food may be left behind. Nonetheless,they’re excellent for people with dexterity problems or a very small mouth an a great beginner device to build kids’ skills with flossing.

Interdental brushes:

These cone-shaped soft-wire disposable brushes, often with a reusable handle, are designed to remove debris and plaque from between teeth and hard-to-reach areas. Easy to use with one hand, these brushes are good for those with limited dexterity, orthodontic appliances, bridges, implants, and large spaces between their teeth. Things to keep in mind, however: they’re less effective than floss in areas below the gum line, they’re more expensive than conventional floss, and the wire brush may damage gums.

Irrigation devices:

Good for removing food and debris from large spaces and difficult-to-reach areas, these electric interdental devices are gentle on gums and are especially good for people with sensitive gums. They are also ideal for those with orthodontic appliances, as they can help flush out food from around the braces and wires and for those with gum disease as they can flush out the bacteria from deep pockets around the teeth that can’t be reached with conventional flossing. And although a gentle stream of water usually acts as the irrigant, antimicrobial agents or other treatments can also be used, as directed by a dental professional. The main disadvantage of these devices? They aren’t effective at removing plaque, as they primarily have a rinsing action only. Plaque removal requires a mechanical contact action that is not achieved through the use of an irrigation device. Other disadvantages? Cost — the tips must be changed every three to six months, and can be messy to learn how to use, requiring a sink, which makes them much less convenient than other interdental cleaners. The key to success? The main goal is to remove plaque from the spaces between your teeth and do so by choosing an interdental cleaner that works for you on a daily basis. Make it a habit, then inconvenience and a lack of time are no longer factors; it simply becomes one of those things you always do!

Dr. Stephanie Stephan DDS, Dentist in Auburn Hills, Pontiac, and Waterford Michigan 1590 Baldwin Avenue, Auburn Hills, Michigan 48340

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