Although some have questioned the benefits of cleaning between your teeth, using an interdental cleaner (like floss) is an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also said flossing is “an important oral hygiene practice” in an August 2016 statement.
The American Dental Association recommends cleaning between your teeth once a day. Cleaning between your teeth may help prevent cavities and gum disease. Cleaning between your teeth helps remove a sticky film called plaque. Plaque contains bacteria that feeds on leftover food or sugar in your mouth. When that happens, it releases an acid that can eat away at the outer shell of your teeth and cause cavities.
Plaque that is not removed by brushing and cleaning between your teeth can eventually harden into a rough substance called tartar (or calculus). Tartar collects along your gum line and can lead to gum disease. Once tartar forms, only your dentist can remove it.
There are several options for cleaning between teeth. You might choose to use dental floss or another product specifically made for this purpose like a dental pick, pre-threaded flosser, tiny brushes that reach between the teeth or wooden plaque remover. Ask your dentist how to use them properly to avoid injuring your gums. It could be that you simply need to try another type of dental floss—waxed, unwaxed, thick or comfort floss. Stick with it and you’ll have adopted a healthy habit for life.
Water flossers also clean between teeth and can be a good option if you have trouble flossing by hand or you have dental work that makes flossing difficult, like braces or permanent or fixed bridges.
Talk to your dentist about what types of dental care products will be most effective for you. Look for products that contain the ADA Seal of Acceptance so you know they have been evaluated for safety and effectiveness. ADA-Accepted Seal products currently include dental floss, a wooden plaque remover and a water flosser.
The most important thing about cleaning between your teeth is to do it. As long as you do a thorough job, it doesn’t matter when. Pick a time of day when you can devote an extra couple of minutes to your dental care. People who are too tired at the end of the day may benefit from cleaning between their teeth first thing in the morning or after lunch. Others might like to go to bed with a clean mouth.
And don’t forget, children need to clean between their teeth too! Start as soon as your child has two teeth that touch. Because cleaning between teeth demands more manual dexterity than very young children have, children are not usually able to do a thorough job on their own until age 10 or 11.
Keep in mind that cleaning between your teeth should not be painful. If you do it too hard, you could damage the tissue between your teeth. If you’re too gentle, you might not be getting the food out. It’s normal to feel some discomfort when you first start, but don’t give up. With daily brushing and cleaning between your teeth, that discomfort should ease within a week or two. If your pain persists, talk to your dentist.