Flossing is just one type of interdental cleaning
You may be aware that flossing, as in using traditional string floss, is not the only way to clean between your teeth.
The correct term for cleaning between your teeth is interdental cleaning.
String floss is just one method of interdental cleaning — there are various alternatives to flossing.
In this post, I will be looking at the various flossing tools available, and recommending the best product in each category.
For clarity, here is a quick summary of the terminology and naming conventions used to describe the various interdental cleaning methods:
- Floss — this refers to string floss
- Interdental brush — these are small, thin plastic or silicone brushes
- Water flosser — this is an electronic device that shoots out pressurised water
- Flossing tool — these are tools that help to hold and use floss. They come in various forms (more detail below)
According to studies, interdental brushes are the best
Going by the evidence from various studies, interdental brushes are the most effective method. They are the ideal alternative to dental floss.
I have put together an article on the best interdental brushes and how to use them.
But some people are more suited to one tool than another.
Using the tool that you find the most comfortable will get the most effective clean and help you to build a flossing habit.
In the next section I’ve therefore included a brief guide on how you can choose the option that’s best suited to you.
How to choose the best flossing tool for your own circumstances
Choosing the right product for interdental cleaning is very personal.
The table below gives a quick comparison of the different methods of interdental cleaning.
This is in a simple traffic light system (red – amber – green). Red is comparatively worse than green.
Please note that this is just rough guidance as there is variety within each category.
It can be a case of trying various tools until you arrive at one that you are comfortable with and feel happy using every day.
As always, see a dental professional for more tailored advice.
|Floss||Flossing Tool||Water flosser||Interdental brushes|
|Ease of use||🔴||🟠||🟠||🟢|
|Good for small gaps||🟢||🟢||🟢||🟠|
|Good for big gaps||🔴||🔴||🟠||🟢|
|Good for crowns and bridges||🔴||🟠||🟢||🟢|
|Good for braces||🔴||🟠||🟢||🟢|
|Good for implants||🔴||🔴||🟢||🟢|
|How long each bit lasts for||One reel – months.|
Floss itself single use
|Single use piece of floss.|
|Years, nozzle changed every few months||One brush lasts about a week|
Our recommendations for the best flossing tools in each category
To be able to recommend the best choices, myself and the Electric Teeth team test a variety of products.
For our recommendations below, we have chosen products that we have personally tested, unless stated otherwise.
We have assessed various products based on personal experience and feedback from other users.
In the sections below I have included our top pick in each category of flossing tool.
If you’re interested in a particular category, you may find our following posts helpful:
- Best interdental brushes
- Best water flosser
- Best cordless water flosser
- Best sustainable floss & interdental cleaning options
- Best dental floss
The above articles go into more detail and provide additional product recommendations in each category.
Best interdental brushes
Gum Proxabrush Go-Betweens
GUM Proxabrush Go-Betweens offers a small range of products, including these straight interdental brushes. Other options are the refillable handle.
There are six sizes available.
They have a plastic handle and a metal wire, coated in nylon.
The nylon bristles come in a variety of straight and conical shapes (as described above). The company says the bristles have an “antibacterial coating” which prevent bacterial growth on the brushes and which means the brushes can be used for up to 10 days. They also report having “triangular shaped bristles” instead of round bristles, which they say removes more plaque.
When it comes to use, the flexible handles make it really easy to clean between the back teeth. They are have a good grip. The bristles and wire are fairly standard in use, and they lasted the equivalent of 4 days with minimal wear.
I really like the shape of the handle on these. They are especially easy to grip because of this shape and the added rubber grip.
These brushes have made it to my recommended products list because they are widely available, and normally cheaper than other leading brands.
Best reusable handle interdental brush
Curaprox Prime with interdental brush refill system
Curaprox Prime has an “interdental brush refill system”. With these brushes, you replace only the wire and bristle part, keeping the same handle.
The handle options include plastic or metal.
Each new wire and bristle part has just a small amount of plastic on it, so there is much less waste overall. All the refills fit all of the handles.
There is the option for a short handle which has a unique “o” design, or a longer handle that allows the bristles to be angled at the end.
The brushes themselves are good quality, and last well up to 4 or 5 days. The come in a wide range of sizes, each of which you can buy individual refills for.
Packaging wise, the original sets and the refills come in recyclable card and clear plastic packaging.
Best countertop water flosser
Waterpik Aquarius WP-660
*Prices correct at time of writing
The Waterpik Aquarius has all of the essential features we look for in a water flosser.
It is fairly compact with hose storage to keep things neat, although there is no place to store any excess power cable.
In our testing, we found it easy to control the water flow from the handle, and the water pressure was easy to adjust with the rotating dial.
Twisting the top of the handle moves the nozzle and helps reach all areas of the mouth. A very thorough clean is achieved each time.
80 seconds is the minimum cleaning time available, even when set to the highest of the 10 pressure settings.
Best cordless water flosser
Waterpik Cordless Advanced WP-560
*Prices correct at time of writing
The Cordless Advanced is one of the most comfortable cordless flossers we have used.
The nozzle is easy to rotate so you can reach all the teeth and clean the entire mouth. You get 45 seconds of cleaning time from the most powerful of the 3 modes.
It has all the features we recommend and has been approved by the Oral Health Foundation and American Dental Association. This means that the flosser has been assessed by an independent panel of experts, and that it is safe and that it has the benefits it says it does.
Best dental floss
Oral-B Essential Floss Mint Waxed
*Prices correct at time of writing.
This floss works out at about 6 cents per metre.
A standard floss, which is the best of the bunch when it comes to traditional nylon flosses. It is widely available and easy to find.
The Oral-B Essential floss is made up of about 35 strands of nylon. It is waxed (although an unwaxed option is available) and is available with mint flavouring or unflavoured.
It comes as 50m spools in a plastic container with a built in metal floss cutter. This plastic container is pp (polypropylene, plastic number 5) so should be recyclable when you are finished with it.
This is a basic floss, and is widely available in shops and online. There are no major concerns with this floss. Although it appears cheap, there isn’t much difference between this and the more comfortable tape options.
I found the floss to have a strong minty flavour, and generally comfortable to use. It has a thin, circular profile and is strong even in very tight gaps. During use, it didn’t shred at all, which is impressive for such a cheap option.
Best dental tape
Oral-B Glide Pro Refillable Floss Starter Kit
*Prices correct at time of writing.
Approximate cost is 10 cents per metre for the starter kit and 7 cents per metre for the refill.
A very good dental tape which fits in most gaps and doesn’t shred, and which now comes in a refillable packaging option.
Previously the Oral-B Glide Pro Health Floss was one of our top choices. One major concern though was its environmental impact because of the use of plastic in the packaging and the floss. Many people have called for Oral-B to make refillable options, as the casing can easily be taken apart at home, and this would be a great improvement. It seems that Oral-B have taken this on board and have just released a refill version of this floss which overcomes this problem.
You can still buy the traditional spools of floss (which is what I have tested), but I recommend the refill over these for environmental reasons.
Although this is called floss, it is more of a tape. It comes waxed and with a strong mint flavouring (although an original version is available, it is not as common).
It seems to be made of single filament PTFE (Oral-B did not respond to my request for more information about the material used). It is 120m long, which is longer than the traditional spools of the Glide Pro Health Floss (50m) or the Satin tape (which is 25m). That is why I have selected it over the Satin Tape for best dental tape. It is very similar to the Oral-B Pro Expert Premium floss, but slightly narrower and a little less refined. However, outside of the UK, the Glide Pro Health Original floss is much easier to find and cheaper too.
This tape is comfortable to use and very shred resistant. It’s thin enough to also be used in the tightest of gaps. It works exactly as you think it should.
The refill kit is currently more expensive than the traditional spools, but it when it comes to calculating the amount per metre of floss, there is not that much difference. And these costs are for the starter kit! Generally, it is very affordable. The refill kits aren’t widely available in shops yet, I suspect this will change soon. The traditional spools are sold in many shops and online.
Best bio-based plastic floss
*Prices correct at time of writing.
Approximate cost per metre for this floss is 30c including the container, or 17c per metre for the refills.
A more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional nylon floss as it is made from bio-based plastic. It is prone to shredding so not the best option for very crowded teeth.
Bambaw PLA floss is my pick for one of the best eco-friendly flosses. Picking an eco-friendly floss is difficult because the only truly plastic free option is silk, which is not necessarily the best option for the environment due to the energy used to produce it. That is why I am picking a PLA option and a silk option. No PLA option performs particularly well compared to traditional flosses, as I find it more prone to shredding.
I have chosen Bambaw based on hands-on testing. Although there is not much difference between this and other brands, this is available at the cheaper end of the scale. It is a corn-based PLA (plastic) floss with candelilla wax coating and peppermint flavouring. It is a vegan alternative to their peace silk floss.
Bambaw is a Belgian brand which strives towards zero-waste products and to be carbon neutral, as well as supporting a number of charitable causes.
This vegan floss is made from a bio-based plastic, which Bambaw says “biodegrades in an industrial compost”. They don’t have any independent testing to verify the breakdown claims, but PLA is generally accepted to be compostable in industrial facilities. It has a candelilla wax coating and is mint flavoured. The refills come as a pack of 2 in plastic free paper packaging.
The 50m spool comes in a reusable stainless steel dispenser, and a spare spool. It is packaged in a kraft paper box and is plastic free. The refills come as 2 x 50m in plastic free packaging.
It can be ordered directly from Bambaw, but ships from Europe.
Best floss holder / floss harp
Quip refillable floss pick
*Prices correct at time of writing.
Quip is a reusable floss pick that comes in a case (with a mirror) and floss refill store, too. The handle itself is made of plastic or metal (you get a choice when buying) with a wide handle. The metal handle comes in a choice of colours.
The floss and the available refills are made of polyester, are mint flavoured, and are vegan. Polyester is not the most environmentally-friendly material option for floss, but there is no reason you can’t use an alternative (although it won’t fit in the dedicated space in the case).
It uses very short amounts of floss – about 2.5 cm per usage.Both the floss handle and the floss have been awarded the ADA Seal of Acceptance, an indicator of its safety and that it does what they say it does.
Best floss pick
Oral-B Glide Gum Care Floss Picks (6 Pack)
*Prices correct at time of writing.
The Oral-B Glide Floss Picks have a small plastic handle with a Y-shape at one end, and pre cut floss stretched between it. At the other end is a floss pick for removing larger debris.
These are designed to be single use and come in multipacks. They do work out fairly expensive, more so than just using floss, but are one of the better options available for people with reduced hand mobility.
The patented design also helps change the tension on the floss as you clean, which gets around the problem with many floss picks where the attached floss becomes loose after use between only a couple of teeth.
Best floss threader
Dentek Floss Threaders
*Prices correct at time of writing.
Dentek make a number of different flossing tools. This threader for floss is one of them. It is designed to be used with a floss of your choice and will help feed this floss around braces, bridges and implants.
They come as a pack of 50 in a clear plastic box. This is packaged in card and clear plastic (which is recyclable). There are clear usage instructions on the back of the packaging.
The flosser itself is simply a piece of blue nylon, approx 9 cm long. This is made up of an “eye”/loop part and the straight flexible threader part. The threader is about 5cm of this is the threader bit, and the remainder is the eye or loop part.
There is no mention from Dentek about sustainability policies, although this is the same for many mainstream dental brands. But this is one of the cheapest flossing tools available.
More flossing tool insights and recommendations
In the sections above I’ve included my main recommendation within each flossing tool category.
In the following sections I discuss each type of tool a bit more and give recommendations for more specific scenarios.
Floss holder / floss harp
A floss holder or floss harp is simply a device to hold pre cut floss between Y-shaped arms. This helps keep the floss taught, helps to reach further back in the mouth, and helps position the floss in between the teeth.
There are disposable options and reusable options.
The disposable options have the floss already fixed in place. You cannot change the floss. The handle will be made from plastic or wood. More sustainable options include choosing bio-based plastic or recycled plastic, or wood.
I explain the sustainable options in more depth in this article about the best eco-friendly options for flossing.
Some examples are listed below. Many stores will also do an own brand version.
|Reusable handle||Single use handle|
|Quip, Durapik, Wisdom Easy Floss Daily Flosser, Listerine UltraClean Access Flosser, GUM: Flossmate, Flosbrush Automatic, Rech Access Flosser, Flossgrip, Flossaid, Get Flossed, Dent-O-Care Floss Holder, My floss friend||NFco Friendly Flossers, TePe Good Mini Flosser, Wisdom EasySLIDE flosser|
The Wisdom EasySLIDE flossers are the best for those struggling with grip due to the bigger handle.
The EasySLIDE has a shorter handle and is single use, whereas the Wisdom Easy Floss Daily Flosser has a long reusable handle and replaceable floss heads. The long handle makes it easy to reach into the mouth, even right at the back and when moving the flosser around. You can do it one handed. The design of the head means you can also bite on the plastic to help the floss on its way.
My personal favourite is the Quip flosser — the reusable handle is designed to last and minimises floss wastage. You can also choose any floss you want to use with it.
Floss picks / flossettes
This is a floss holder with an interdental pick on the other end. The pick is normally made from the same material as the handle, but shaped to a point. Some brushes have an interdental brush.
The floss pick end helps position the floss, keeps the floss tight during use and helps reach further back in the mouth. The interdental pick will clean bigger gaps, dislodge food, and clean between teeth where floss doesn’t reach (e.g. bridges) or where more thorough cleaning is needed.
Many stores who sell dental products have their own branded options for floss picks. Well known brands include
- Humble Co Floss Picks (there are two differently shaped handles available)
- Piksters Floss Picks: Eco and SupaGRIP
- Wisdom floss harps: charcoal, re:new, Clean between flossers
- Dentek: Floss picks, Easy Reach floss picks, 3-in-1 interdental cleaners
- GUM Easy-flosser
- Oral-B Glide Floss Picks
I don’t normally support the use of disposable floss picks or floss harps due to the amount of waste created. I think a reusable floss holder is a better option, plus the use of interdental brushes in the size you need.
With floss picks made from plastic, they are not good enough to be a replacement for interdental brushes (the most effective type of cleaning). Floss picks that have an interdental brush at the end don’t have a choice of sizes, so again I recommend just buying interdental brushes if this is what you want and need.
I have tested a number of the options above. I didn’t find the double floss layer of the Humble Co Floss picks added anything (apart from more waste). The wisdom floss picks were standard to use. As these are made from recycled plastic, they probably have the lowest environmental impact.
The best option, in my opinion, is the Oral-B Glide Floss Pick due to the easy grip handle and ability to change the tension on the floss.
A close second place is the Dentek 3-in-1 interdental cleaner which has a floss section, interdental brush section and plastic pick. It will cover most gaps in the mouth, and comes in a strong mint flavour.
A threader for dental floss is a fine handle in the shape of a sewing needle. It has an eye for fitting floss through.
These are good for getting around devices like braces or bridges. We have a guide for cleaning around braces in our post on the best toothpaste, mouthwash and floss for braces.
The threader is stiffer than the floss, but has enough flex to allow floss to be passed in between and through brace wires and underneath bridges. Most people will be unable to pass the threader between the teeth though, and it is not designed to be used like this.
You can see how they work in the following video:
These are a reusable alternative to bridge and implant flosses (e.g. Oral B SuperFloss) . They work out more affordable and you can choose exactly which floss you want to use with them.
- Dentek floss threaders
- Vinsulla floss threaders
- iDontix X-threaders
- iDontix X-Floss
- GUM Eez-thru floss threaders
- Bridgeaid Floss threader
The threaders themselves were all very similar in appearance and in use. I tested a number of the options above to see if there was any difference and I couldn’t find any. The Dentek and Vinsulla came in a plastic box of 50, whilst GUM gave 25 in a box. The iDontix threader for floss came in a resealable bag of 30. All of them are made from a blue nylon thread approx 9 cm long (about 5cm of this is the flexible threader bit, and the remainder is the eye or loop part). As there is no difference in performance, my preference is for the Dentek for being more affordable than GUM and iDontix, with the protection of being a reputable dental brand. Vinsulla is cheaper, but I really couldn’t find any information about the company.
iDontix X-Floss is a threader like I have described above, with a wide tape shaped gauze or “floss”. These are single use like traditional bridge and implant floss, but the floss itself is very effective around implants, braces and bridges.
Powered flossing tools
Powered flossing tools have a motor powered by a battery. The concept is that it helps by moving a piece of floss or a floss pick in between the teeth.
Oral-B manufactured the Hummingbird, which offered both these options.
These are sadly no longer available. Newer alternatives don’t offer the same options, for example Waterpik’s Power Flosser or the Power Pikster.
The Power Flosser uses a soft rubber tip to clean the interdental space. This uses “10,000 gentle tip strokes per minute” rather than floss. The Power Pikster uses the interdental brushes sold by Piksters, which are moved using “sonic vibrations”.
Such tools help people who have trouble using regular floss but want to pay attention to their interdental spaces.
Water flossers are powered flossing tools which send jets of water between the teeth. We have dedicated pages discussing these and have recommendations for the best water flossers.
I haven’t had any hands-on testing with the products mentioned. I can see the appeal of something to help make flossing easier, but it is better to get your technique sorted first. If you struggle to hold floss, interdental brushes may be a better option for you.
In the sections below I’ve included the answers to common questions about the different flossing tools and methods.
And see our how to floss page for instructions on using tools correctly.
Is one type of interdental cleaning recommended over another?
Interdental brushes should be the first option for interdental cleaning.
Water flossers have some evidence to support their use, but are not as good as interdental brushes.
Flossing is the least effective type of interdental cleaning.
But even with evidence pointing towards one particular type of cleaning, the most important thing is developing a regular habit. The most effective type of interdental cleaning is the one that you will actually do.
There is a small amount of evidence to support all of the cleaning methods. Even the perceived “least” effective forms of interdental cleaning are shown to have some benefit over tooth brushing alone.
Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE summed this up nicely:
“For some time the recommendation in the UK has been to use interdental brushes rather than floss as the evidence for their effectiveness is stronger.
While there is no suggestion that flossing can be damaging to oral health, there is limited evidence as to its effectiveness. If you are flossing, and flossing well, it will cause no harm and it is probably not advisable to give up but you might want to try interdental brushes as an alternative.”
What is the evidence for and against interdental brushes?
Interdental brushes are the gold standard for interdental cleaning.
Interdental brushes are effective at removing plaque from between the teeth. They have been proven to reduce signs of gum disease, such as bleeding and swelling.
They are safe to use. Rarely, they can cause reversible damage to the gums if used incorrectly.
Rubberpicks, or silicone based interdental brushes, are no less effective than traditional interdental brushes (Ng and Lim).
The following reviews rate Interdental brushes as the best form of cleaning:
- Ng and Lim
- Graziani et al
- Sälzer et al
- European Federation of Periodontology 2020 Guidelines.
What are flossing tools?
Flossing tools are special tools or devices, normally made from plastic or metal, that help to hold and use floss.
These are most commonly called floss picks, but there are different options. There is no definition available for each, but I break them down into:
- Floss holder/floss harp – pre cut floss is held between two arms. Helps position the floss.
- Floss picks/flossette – floss holder with a pick on the other end. Helps position the floss and also has an interdental pick for bigger gaps on the other end.
- Floss threader – a handle in the shape of a small plastic needle, with an eye for fitting floss through. Good for getting around devices like braces or bridges.
- Powered flossing tools.
Many options are disposable after one use.
There are also options where you just replace the floss after use, keeping the holder. For these options you can pick your type of floss or tape depending on your preferences (see my advice on the best dental floss for which one to pick).
Are flossing tools a good idea?
If you want to use floss and struggle with the technique, then yes, flossing tools are a good idea.
They make it easier to get the right technique, help you to reach the back teeth, and help create a regular flossing habit.
Whilst floss and flossing tools aren’t as good as interdental brushes, there are some proven benefits that can help remove plaque and food from areas that the toothbrush can’t reach.
If you have mild gum disease (gingivitis) then flossing tools may help you get the most from your floss. For more advanced gum disease (periodontitis), you do need to use interdental brushes as they are more effective.
Here is a summary of the most important pros and cons of flossing tools:
|Same cleaning benefits of floss but better reach||Disposable tools have a negative environmental impact.|
|Good option for small gaps||You need the right technique to be effective|
|Good option to help clean around braces, bridges, and implants (depending on tool)||Not effective in larger gaps|
|good option for those with limited dexterity.|
|Reusable floss holders are environmentally friendly and minimise amount of floss used|
One of the greatest disadvantages with floss and flossing tools in general is the environmental impact of disposable products. If this is something you are concerned about, see our guide to the best sustainable floss and interdental cleaning options.
Are there any other alternatives to flossing
Yes, besides the products included above, there are some other alternative flossing tools.
Some of these are new devices that are looking to find innovations in interdental cleaning. We cover some of them on our toothbrush technology page.
The risk with these devices is that they can be expensive and are not clinically proven when they launch. As such they shouldn’t be assumed as replacements for existing methods of interdental cleaning that are supported by studies.
The other options are ‘natural’ alternatives, such as woodpicks and natural floss sticks. I cover these in more detail in my article on the eco-friendly interdental cleaning.
But in brief, there is not enough evidence to support the use of these over string floss, water flossers and interdental brushes. As a dentist I do not recommend them.