Chapter 7- Cleaning in between your teeth

Why clean in between your teeth?

If you think of a back tooth as a box upside down on the floor, it has a top and 4 sides.

The outside face [the bit you see in the mirror and call the front of your tooth], the inside face [the bit you call the back of your tooth] and the surface you bite on can all be cleaned with a toothbrush, but not the 2 surfaces that face the teeth on either side.

That’s 2 out of 5 surfaces- 40% of your tooth!

You wouldn’t take off 40% of your makeup, or brush 40% of your hair or wipe 40% of your b..m so why would you only clean 40% of your tooth, where is the logic in that?

Your gum is like a little window sill around your tooth. The bacteria live on the window sill. When they have been there for some time they make your gums swollen and inflamed and they drop down the back of the window sill and destroy the bone around your teeth. This is gum disease.

So when cleaning the sides of your teeth you need to say to yourself all the time-

‘Can I feel the bristles on my gums, can I feel the bristles on my gums’?

You also need to remember this little mantra;-

When they bleed, they are sick, you need to clean them better.

Look at it like this- if you were a little bird and you want to build a nest you wouldn’t build it on a branch that bounces up and down all the time, you would build it somewhere safe. It’s the same with the bacteria on your teeth. They do not live so much on the nice smooth shiny surface, it’s designed to shed the dirt. They live somewhere safe- on the little window sill and in between your teeth, so these are the most important places to clean.


Floss cleans the contact point [the tight bit you have to shove it past, cavities form just underneath this], so through the contact point, up one side of the pink triangle of gum and up the other side. Don’t forget to floss down the back of your last tooth and the sides of any teeth where there isn’t one next door because you have had it extracted.

There have been various things in the press re floss and it’s effectiveness. ‘We have no evidence that floss works’ means just that! ’We have no evidence’, It does not mean ‘The evidence says it doesn’t work’, there is a difference!

Try this little scientific experiment for your self- clean the bathroom mirror, floss your teeth, look at the mirror. I rest my case!

You can use floss, tape, waxed, un waxed, cheap or expensive anything you like, it’s just string used as a scraper. Like cleaning frost off your car wind screen with a credit card. There is no lower age limit to flossing your teeth though I usually teach young people when they get to about 13 and they have all their adult teeth.

A few things to say-

Make sure you use a long enough bit of floss otherwise you don’t have enough to grab hold off.

Various people Oral B for example produce little floss manuals, no doubt there are things on YouTube. Well I can’t do it like they suggest. I get all tangled up wrapping it round my fingers.. I suggest you get a long enough bit, wrap it round your dominant hand so it’s anchored, hold it between your thumbs and grip it with your other hand.

Don’t have too big a bit of floss in between your thumbs or you can’t get it all in your mouth, have a little bit, hold it tight like a guitar string then you can ping it through the gap.

If you are worried about pulling it back through the tight bit, perhaps you have a big filling you are concerned about, pull it out sideways.

You don’t have to floss all of your teeth, just the ones you want to keep!

Little Interspace brushes.

As you gets a little older [sometimes before if you are just made like that] you have bigger gaps in between your teeth and you need something in addition to floss to clean your teeth.

You need little brushes.

They are color coded according to size. TPs are the market leader.

Not all brands use the same ISO color coding. So if you swap brands from the ones you have been taught on, if you are on holiday say and you’ve run out, you need to know the millimetres. NB this is not the diameter of the brush, it is the diameter of the hole it will go through. A brush of a different brand with softer filaments will look bigger for the same size.

Make sure it’s Teflon or plastic coated so it doesn’t scrape the sides of your teeth. They can be safely used around implants.

Brushes with bamboo handles are now available.

You need your dentist or hygienist to teach you how to use them and to work out what sizes you need for each gap. Then you need to go home and practice.

You might be a person with all the same sized gaps, you just need one size brush or you might need half a dozen different sizes of brush to clean all the spaces effectively and efficiently.

If you have a tooth which doesn’t have another next door you still need to clean across it as if it did or that surface will never get cleaned.

When you are just starting to use brushes start with a small size, red say if you are using TPs.

Start half way along your teeth at no 4 and 5. Why? Because those teeth have a big waist and so have bigger triangular gaps between them so they are good teeth to practice on. Your molars are more difficult as you need to get your fingers to the back of your mouth . Angle the handle down towards your toes on the bottom jaw and up towards your nose on the top jaw. Move the brush gently and slowly back and forth through the gap 5-6 times. Don’t rush it you will bend the brush. Increase your repertoire till you can do them all. Practice with the red brush and when you have mastered the art of that, get all of the gaps that you can up to the next size [blue]. Practice that for a bit and then try the next size [yellow] and so on ‘till you have worked out what size each gap is.

Every gap is as important as every other you need to learn to clean every single one. You are not cleaning the gap, it’s air, you are cleaning the 2 teeth on either side of the gap so you need a brush that is a snug fit for every space.

It takes some time to learn, so master each little step as you go along. We only really teach ourselves things in life, that French mistress she didn’t open the top of your head and stuff the verbs in, you had to go through the pain of learning them. It’s the same as learning to clean your teeth properly, you have to teach yourself but there is no substitute for professional instruction.

‘Practice makes perfect like playing the piano!

Put a tiny little bit of toothpaste on your brush so you leave some fluoride in between your teeth, the bit in between is very vulnerable as it is a stagnant area, so that is where cavities form. Anatomically it also has less protective enamel so it needs all the help it can get! Don’t stick your little brush down the toothpaste tube, you are putting bugs into the toothpaste for all the family to use. Put a little smear on the back of your hand and wipe your brush across it. Alternatively if you find this difficult, finish cleaning your teeth completely and then go round with a tiny brush [pink say] and plonk a bit of fluoride in each gap, you can buy fluoride gel for doing this instead but it’s cheaper to use toothpaste.

This is the order to do it in- little brushes, floss, manual or electric toothbrush.

Why- so you get the bits out and then you brush them off!

How often to do it? Twice a day of course! But failing that once before you go to bed.

A few things to say-

Don’t buy multi packs of different sizes, waste of money, you will probably find you don’t need half the sizes, or you use different sizes at different rates and so you are left with a surplus of some of them.

You will probably go through quite a lot to start with, while you learn. As you get better this will decrease. All my gaps are one size and I find I use approx 1 brush per week. So a pack of eight lasts me 2mths which at £3.65 is not an exorbitant cost to keep your teeth in your head. What you are actually investing is time.

Your teeth like children, plants and animals need your time and more importantly your attention.

Do it in the mirror, you need a mirror slightly below your face, I have to use a step sometimes, there is no shame in that.

You need a good light.

Put your glasses on if you need them for reading, you need to see what you are doing.

You aim to keep your teeth for life.

There for you have two objectives-

1- To learn all you can about their health and welfare and

2- To teach yourself how to care for them properly.

This website and your dental team are there to help you- if you wish! 

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