What is interdental cleaning?

Dental Hygienist at Bupa UK
01 August 2016
Toothbrushes in a mug

Have you ever seen those tiny brushes in the tooth care aisle of the supermarket that look like miniature bottle brushes? These are called interdental brushes and are used for interdental cleaning, which simply put means ‘cleaning between your teeth’.

Most of us are familiar with flossing our teeth. It should be part of our daily tooth care routine in addition to brushing our teeth. But, even though we know we should clean between our teeth – with floss or other aids – a lot of people don’t do it.

Why brushing isn’t enough

It’s important to remember that a significant portion of your teeth surfaces are located beneath the gum line and between your teeth. These are the places that your toothbrush just can’t reach. This is called the interdental area.

The interdental area is where most plaque (the sticky bacteria that builds up on your teeth and gums) collects. Gum inflammation (one of the first signs of gum disease) usually starts in the gum tissue between your teeth. These are the little triangle bits of gum between your teeth (interdental papilla). Inflammation may then spread further around the borders of your gums.

We need to tackle these areas in a different way to just brushing them, to make sure the plaque is fully removed.

To do this you need to use special instruments and devices such as floss and interdental brushes, as well as brushing your teeth, to keep oral problems such as gum inflammation, cavities (holes) and bad breath at bay.

How do interdental cleaning aids work?

Interdental cleaning works by what is called ‘biofilm disruption’. This means preventing bacteria building up on your teeth and gums by disrupting its growth with daily cleaning.

To maintain good oral health and to prevent problems, you should clean between your teeth at least once a day before brushing your teeth. Your hygienist will explain which products to use and how to use them, but here’s a guide below.

What interdental aids should you use?

The main aids are floss and interdental brushes which I’ll tell you more about below.


Floss is a successful way to remove plaque in between your teeth. Studies report that using floss every day reduces plaque and inflamed gums.

For flossing to work, you need to push the floss up between your teeth, pull the floss tight, and slide it up and down against your tooth surface and under your gum line.

If you don’t get on with floss very well, there are other aids available to make flossing a little easier. Ask your hygienist for advice on what to use.

Interdental brushes

Interdental brushes look like little bottle cleaners. You insert them between your teeth and move them back and forth in a sawing motion. Many people find interdental brushes easier to use than floss. It’s important you find something that works for you because interdental cleaning will only work if you do it every day.

If you have problems using your hands or if you have large hands, interdental brushes might be more appealing to you than floss. Brushes with larger handles can make it easier to access the areas around your back molars and wisdom teeth. If you can use and hold a pen, you should be able to use an interdental brush effectively.  

Brushes come in a wide range of sizes (0.4mm – 1.5mm). It’s best to talk to your hygienist about which brushes to use as it’s important you use the size that’s best suited to cleaning between your teeth. Best results come from using a brush that exactly and fully fits the space between your teeth, so sometimes you may be advised to use different sized brushes for different spaces between your teeth.

Research suggests that interdental brushes are better at removing plaque than floss or interdental sticks (these are little disposable sticks, sometimes coated in fluoride, which you can place between your teeth). Brushes are also less likely than floss to cause bleeding from your gums. They are also best at removing plaque if you have ‘embrasures’. These are little black triangles between your teeth where the gum has worn away because of the bacteria and plaque.

Get the right advice for you

Remember, just brushing your teeth isn’t the full story when it comes to having a healthy smile. All interdental aids can be very effective, but it’s best to follow advice from your dentist or hygienist about how to use them. They can also advise which devices are best for you.

Monica Herreras-Fortuny
Dental Hygienist at Bupa UK

What would you like us to write about?


Bupa health insurance

Heart icon

Bupa health insurance aims to provide you with the specialist care and support you need, as quickly as possible. Find out how you could benefit.