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Interdental Cleaning – Floss vs Interdental Brushes

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Gemma Wheeler

(GDC Number: 259369)

Interdental Cleaning - Floss vs Interdental Brushes 1

Have you been told you need to floss or use interdental brushes?

Are you wondering what the differences are and which is right for you?

If you answered yes to either question then this article is for you.

Continue reading to learn the pros and cons of floss and interdental brushes and floss and which you should be using.

Interdental Cleaning - Floss vs Interdental Brushes 2

When you brush your teeth with a manual or electric toothbrush, you are only cleaning 3 of the 5 sides of your teeth. Whilst the bristles of the toothbrush do reach into the gaps between teeth, their reach and cleaning effectiveness is limited.

In fact, by brushing your teeth alone you are only cleaning 60% of the tooth surface. 40% goes uncleaned, unless you clean those interdental spaces.

There are many different tools to achieve this interdental cleaning.  Electric flossers, water flossers, interdental brushes, floss, floss picks, dental floss sticks and many more.

In short they all help achieve the goal of getting the spaces between your teeth clean, but some do it better than others whilst some are more suited to one person than another.

Interdental brushes and string floss are the most recommended by dental professionals.

Organisations like the British Society of Periodontology advise the use of interdental brushes, primarily due to their effectiveness and ease of use. 

Floss still plays a part, but they acknowledge that floss is of little use, unless the gap between your teeth is so tight that floss is the only option.

If interdental brushes are the new recommendation, what are the pros and cons and how do they compare to floss?

Flossing: A Quick Guide To Getting Started

Interdental Brushes – Pros

  • More effective at cleaning in between the teeth – the bristles move and compress into different sized and shaped gaps than floss.
    • Removes more bacteria than flossing and tooth brushing or tooth brushing alone.
    • Resolves the symptoms of gingivitis (gum disease).
  • Different sized brushes for different sized gaps in the teeth – Not a one size fits all approach like floss.
  • Easier to handle and clean in between – Just a back and forth motion needed and there are handles (short and long) on interdental brushes, making it better for all, particularly those with limited dexterity.
  • You can bend the tips – Flexible brush heads make it simpler to get into gaps.
  • The only option for braces – Floss simply does not suit those who wear fixed braces, brushes clean deeper and around fittings.
Interdental Cleaning - Floss vs Interdental Brushes 3

Interdental Brushes – Cons

  • More expensive than floss – Many people require different sizes for different gaps.
  • Can cut gums – If used aggressively the wire construction can cut or aggravate the gums.
  • Bacteria build up – Whilst they can be rinsed off and reused for about a week, bacteria can build up on the bristles and then be essentially planted back in the mouth because the brush is not sterile.
  • Time consuming – Getting in between all the gaps takes a lot of time.

You can learn more about interdental brushes by reading our article on the best interdental brushes.

Flossing Pros

  • Cheap – Reels of floss can be picked up for very little money.
  • Fits in very small gaps – Ideally suited for gaps so tight that an interdental brush will not fit into.
  • Hygienic – Disposing of the floss after use ensures the bacteria is removed.
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Flossing Cons

  • No proven results – The Associate Press discovered very weak evidence that it is beneficial.
  • Difficult – Getting the floss in between the teeth and cleaning effectively can be very awkward, particularly for rear teeth and those with limited dexterity.
  • Painful – Can cut into the gums and be unpleasant to use.
  • Time consuming – Getting in between all those gaps takes a lot of time.
  • Not suitable for fixed braces – Unable to manoeuvre or effectively clean when braces are worn.

So is it time to bin the floss?

No, not exactly.

Not cleaning in between the teeth can lead to a buildup of plaque and bacteria between them which in turn can lead to gum disease.  

Therefore taking clear preventative steps is important.  

Where once floss was your go to option, an interdental brush is now the answer. Whilst the evidence may well be lacking for floss, it is about having the right tool for the job.

In fact, you may find this guide to the best flossing tools useful. It considers floss, interdental brushes and oral irrigators.

Ultimately, everyone’s needs are different and dentists are best placed to recommend the best approach for you.  

About Jon Love

Jon is a leading voice on electric toothbrushes and has been quoted by mainstream media publications for his opinions and expertise.

Having handled & tested hundreds of products there really is very little he does not know about them.

Passionate about business and helping others, Jon has been involved in various online enterprises since the early 2000s.

After spending 12 years in consumer technology, it was in 2014 that he focused his attention on dental health, having experienced first-hand the challenge of choosing a new toothbrush.

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8 thoughts on “Interdental Cleaning – Floss vs Interdental Brushes”

  1. hello,
    I decided to start interdental brushing and flossing.

    But since I use it, I have small black triangles that appeared between my lower teeth (incisor), it is quite unsightly. I am worried.
    Something I did wrong ?

    Do I have to stop for a while the brush and the wire ?
    Will these black triangles disappear on their own ?

    Thanks !

    • Hi Tonyo.

      What you describe sounds quite normal.

      What you have actually done (by the sounds of it) is clean the teeth to a higher standard. You may not have realised but your gums may have been slightly puffier/larger than they should have been and had essentially covered these gaps between your teeth (the small black triangles). These gaps are natural.

      By cleaning the teeth better you have removed the plaque that would have caused the gums to puff up and fill these gaps. If you stopped using the interdental brushes over the next few weeks, the gums would likely puff up again and fill these gaps.

      If you are concerned, you should get it checked out by a dental professional.

      • It reassures me a lot, I thought I had destroyed my interdental papilla !
        So it’s normal.
        If the health of my mouth is better, it suits me very well

        Little question, can I use a hydropulsor with the brush and the wire? If yes, what is the best way to do it, alternating (one day water floss, one day brush for example) or at the same time?

        Or is it better to choose one or the other method and stick to it?

        It seems to me that the hydropulsor is less aggressive ?

        Sorry for all these questions, these are brand new routines for me.

        Thank you !

        • Tonyo.

          Well, I can’t say it is 100% normal as I am not a dentist and can’t comment on your specific circumstances.

          There are many causes of what some would consider as ‘black triangles’ as outlined in this article. It might be worth speaking to your dentist for confirmation.

          You can use a water flosser if you like. I have not heard of anyone using them at the same time, but some will switch between the two. Most use either or because they prefer one over the other.

          Most dental professionals think interdental brushes are best if they fit in the gap. However, water flossers certainly have their place and often encourage those who would not otherwise floss to do so. The brushes can be more convenient because with water flossers you need to be lent over a sink to allow the water to escape.

          The water can to some feel less aggressive, but it is not making the same type of contact as a brush, so they are different. A brush should fit snugly in a gap, but not have to be forced through, so a brush, although it can feel fairly tight between the teeth, should still move with relative ease.

          I hope this helps.

  2. I have just started both flossing and interdental brushes and I am super happy to have a clean mouth! However I am really unhappy about continually disposing of small pieces of plastic into the environment (albeit as responsibly as possible, its still ultimately into the environment). Obviously even looking after a brush as well as possible, it will still need regular replacing, but what brand will last the longest, or be better in the environment once disposed of?

    • Hi Christine.

      Thanks for the comment.

      I appreciate your concern. It is something we are aware of and will soon be integrating more content on our site that highlights the more environmentally considerate options.

      It is not easy to say if one particular brand will last the longest. TePe interdental brushes are well regarded, but everyones use is different, causing the brushes to wear at different rates.

      I would encourage you to take a look at Picksters (view on Amazon). They have a new range of bamboo interdental brushes which are better for the environment.

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