Three easy alternatives to flossing your teeth

Dr Mike Heffernan and Dr Toby Edwards-Lunn

Why is it so important to floss your teeth? Brace yourself for a shocking truth: it’s not.

Cleaning between your teeth is important but precisely how you go about it is up to you, which is a point frequently missed by many patients – and their dentists.

People tend not to floss for two reasons: it’s fiddly and it can be mildly painful (although only if you’re doing it wrong). However, done correctly, flossing performs an important service for your teeth, by cleaning the 20 per cent of your tooth’s surface that is adjacent to its neighbours. This surface is hard to reach, making it a breeding ground for plaque, which in turn can cause tooth decay, gum disease and an increased risk of systemic diseases such as strokes and diabetes. Sorry to scare you there.

So, how can you master the important art of interdental brushing without reaching for the fiddly floss? Here are three great alternatives we recommend to all non-flossers:

1. Dental tape. This is far easier to use than floss because it is wider and lubricated. It can also be mounted on a dental pick, making it easier for you to slide the lubricated tape between your teeth, especially at the front of your mouth.

Try using a Y-shaped dental pick for this rather than the other common design, which is shaped like a bow.

2. Interdental brushes. Whereas dental tape is best for cleaning between the teeth at the front of your mouth, we recommend using interdental brushes at the back. Your interdental brushes should have an angled head so they can be more easily inserted between your teeth.

Gently pull the brush head between each of your teeth once a day. If the brush doesn’t go through easily, a gentle wiggle should do the trick, but please don't force it.

Interdental brushes are available in all sizes and you should choose the biggest brush head that still fits between your teeth.

3. Rubberised interdental brushes. For patients who find interdental brushes too fiddly and easy to bend out of shape, we recommend using rubberised interdental brushes. The rubberised versions are not quite as effective at cleaning your teeth as the regular brush heads but they are extremely easy to use.

Whichever technique you prefer, the key is to ensure that the daily cleaning process is quick, easy and painless: brushing between your teeth should take no more than three minutes from start to finish. And if you find yourself rushed off your feet in the mornings, we recommend keeping some dental tape or interdental brushes in your drawer at work. The next time you need a screen-break, take a trip to the toilets and clean between your teeth. Hey presto, you've just developed a healthy habit.

  • A version of this article was published in The Daily Telegraph.