Interdental Cleaning – Floss vs Interdental Brushes

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Gemma Wheeler

(GDC Number: 83940)

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.

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?

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 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.

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.  

Jon Love

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.

Read More

Leave a comment or question

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

  1. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
Leave a comment