Psst! You Might Only Be Cleaning 60% of Your Teeth! Here’s How to Clean the Rest

If you were to bathe yet only wash from your feet to the bottom of your rib cage, would you say that you were clean? Of course not.

Yet many people think they’re doing just fine by only cleaning 60% of their teeth’s total surfaces. They may brush twice daily, but that still leaves 40% covered with the sticky biofilm we call plaque. To clean that, you’ve got to floss. Every day. Most Americans don’t.

Unsurprisingly, about half of all Americans struggle with gum disease, a condition that raises your risk of many systemic health problems: heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cognitive decline, cancer, and more.

But those who regularly clean between their teeth have better oral health: less gum disease, fewer cavities, and fewer missing teeth. Flossing, you may be happy to know, isn’t the only way of going about it.

For Those Who Hate Flossing, You’ve Got Alternatives

Don’t get us wrong: Flossing is fantastic – when done with the proper technique (which looks like this). It’s not hard; it’s just easy to rush and wind up doing a less-than-stellar job.

Fortunately, there are other tools that can make it easier to ensure that your whole mouth gets clean each and every day. Two of these in particular have good evidence supporting their use as either floss alternatives or additions to flossing that have the power to take your oral health to a higher level: interdental brushes and oral irrigators.

Interdental brushes are small round or conical brushes designed to slip into the space between teeth so you can brush their sides, as well as the top of the sulcus. That’s the clinical name for the natural space between the tooth and gum – a space that can deepen into a periodontal pocket as gum disease progresses, a great hideout for harmful bacteria.

Small and flexible, most patients find interdental brushes – sometimes called soft picks or proxy brushes – much easier to handle and more comfortable than floss. This is likely why people tend to clean better and more thoroughly with them. One of the most recent reviews of studies comparing different cleaning tools found that interdental brushes are “at least as good if not superior to floss in reducing plaque and gingivitis.”

The other nice thing about interdental brushes is that you can simultaneously use them to apply natural antimicrobials to your teeth and gums – ozonated oil, for instance, or botanical products such as the Dental Herb Company’s Tooth & Gum Tonic, an herbal mouthwash.

Like interdental brushes, an oral irrigator such as a Waterpik or Hydrofloss unit, is much easier to use than floss. You simply aim the streaming water between your teeth and into the sulcus.

In addition to cleaning, an oral irrigator also stimulates the gum tissue. This helps strengthen it and increase blood flow to it. More blood means more oxygen, and most oral pathogens hate that. They thrive in low-oxygen environments, like those periodontal pockets we mentioned before, which is one reason why bacteria love to colonize there.

An irrigator actually allows you to flush those pockets, clearing out the bad bugs and their acidic waste. For even more cleaning power, use ozonated water or add herbal antimicrobials to fluoride-free water (diluted blends, NOT pure essential oils).

For the Best Oral Health Outcomes…

According to a 2023 study in the Journal of Periodontology, both interdental brushes and oral irrigators proved effective at improving gum health and reducing inflammatory markers associated with periodontal disease.

But truly and ultimately, the specific tools you use are less important than the fact that you use them correctly and every day. Toothbrushing alone just isn’t going to cut it. As the authors of one 2019 paper put it, the evidence suggests that

interdental cleaning aids are augmented in their effectiveness by the addition of a toothbrush; conversely a toothbrush has less effect on reducing plaque and inflammation levels when used alone. A combination of the brushing and interdental cleaning improves oral health outcomes.

Indeed, it does.