When you think about maintaining a healthy mouth, brushing your teeth should be the top priority. Twice daily toothbrushing with a fluoride toothpaste is the cornerstone to a healthy smile, but there is one simple addition that can truly transform how healthy your mouth is – and that is interdental cleaning.
While toothbrushing is the most effective way to keep your teeth clean, it only reaches 60% of the tooth’s surfaces. Using interdental brushes (also called proxabrushes) to clean in between the gaps in your teeth is one of the easiest and most important things you can do to change the health of your smile for the better.
The problem: when natural biofilm turns into dental plaque
Like with almost everything in nature, there are always some bacteria in your mouth and on your teeth. Bacteria are everywhere: in the air, in food, on your skin. The entire world is covered in them, so don’t be surprised.
Usually, these bacteria are in perfect balance with the protective agents in our mouth. We have certain antibacterial agents in our saliva that keep the normal bacterial flora in check. But when bacteria meet our teeth in a moist environment, they tend to settle on that surface and start building up.
In our mouth, bacteria build structures we call biofilm – it’s a layer of living organisms reinforced with protective elements. This biofilm allows bacteria to live and breed in a more protected environment. Biofilm is like bacteria building villages, towns, and cities – but on your teeth. The bacteria have no concern about your well-being, so they just build the film wherever they can.
When bacteria breed in the safety of biofilm, they produce a lot of waste. The bigger and stronger the biofilm, the more waste bacteria produce. This waste offsets the chemical balance on our teeth, and leads to tooth decay, bad breath, and all sorts of gum disease. When the film is too thick and strong, we call it dental plaque. Naturally, we want to avoid plaque as much as we can.
How to destroy the plaque
The only way to properly destroy the biofilm is physically disrupting its structure. You take a soft toothbrush and clean your teeth: two times a day, gently and thoroughly, front and back, until the teeth are clean. Rushing through the process won’t work: when you don’t brush properly, there’s a lot of biofilm left on the teeth, so bacteria have no problem rebuilding their colonies in the next few hours.
Using a mouthwash instead of brushing won’t work either: the film can get strong, so a mouthwash won’t do any lasting damage. You might feel freshness in your mouth, but this feeling merely masks the fact that the biofilm is still there, and the bacterial colony is growing stronger.
The same goes for chewing gum: it masks bad breath, but the bacterial colonies are still there, breeding and producing waste. To get rid of the plaque, you’ve got to brush; there is no other way.
Toothpaste plays an important role in fighting the plaque: the biofilm gets destroyed through the mechanical brushing action, and then the paste helps increase your natural defense.
Proper brushing typically covers the front and back of your teeth. But no conventional brush can reach the areas at the sides of your teeth – we call those areas the interdental space. When you have food stuck in your teeth, that’s where it goes.
Everyone has some sort of interdental space, but since your tongue isn’t thin enough to get there, you might think you have none. But you do.
Interdental space is the best place for the biofilm to accumulate: it’s usually undisturbed, quiet and full of nutrients. So even people with great brushing habits can have dental plaque accumulating in the interdental space. This place must be cleaned.
Cleaning the interdental space: flossing vs. interdental tools
There are two common ways to clean interdental space: dental floss and interdental tools. Although flossing is the preferred method by your dental team, people don’t like to do it, don’t feel they have the dexterity to do it, or frequently just forget to do it.
Interdental brushes go between your teeth and destroy the structures of the biofilm. A simple in-and-out movement is usually enough. The brush is then rinsed clean and can be reused.
Unlike dental floss, interdental brushes have bristles that get into all corners and spaces and clean out the plaque. This makes them more effective than floss. Interdental brush makers have enough sizes for all teeth, so just follow your dentist’s recommendations.
Other cleaning tools include rubber SoftPicks made by GUM which are narrower than brushes, Stim-u-dents made by Johnson and Johnson which are made of a soft wood, and Opalpix made by Ultradent which are very narrow plastic picks with a light sandpaper feel.
It’s a good idea to try using your new interdental during your visit to Barbara Bell DDS, PA. That way, you’ll make sure you’re doing it right and not damaging your teeth and gums. Feel free to ask any questions of Dr. Bell and our team and get familiar with your new interdentals before taking them home.
Some people experience temporary bleeding when they use an interdental for the first time: this is a sign that a mild form of gum disease has already started near the interdental space, and by brushing you’ve disrupted a small portion of the gum that contains tiny blood vessels. It’s a good thing you caught it early, because a little later you could be getting the same kind of bleeding from conventional brushing. Don’t worry: once you clean out the biofilm from in between your teeth, the gum inflammation will go away, the blood vessels will be protected and there’ll be no bleeding.
If the bleeding persists, contact us at Barbara Bell DDS, PA.
What to avoid
Do not replace regular brushing with interdental brushing altogether. Interdental cleaning is a part of your brushing ritual. Proper regular toothbrushing is still vital: soft brush, gentle circular motions, front and back, until clean, twice a day.
It’s generally a good idea to avoid a high-carb, high-sugar diet as it reduces your saliva’s capacity to protect your teeth. Bacteria breed better when sugars abound, so don’t give them the opportunity.
If you have diabetes or immune-related issues, be extra careful with your oral hygiene and interdental space. Lowered immune response weakens your gums’ ability to counteract the bacteria that are already on your teeth, making gums more susceptible to inflammation.