Are you a brusher or a flosser?

Research published as part of National Smile Month (May 15 - June 15, 2017) suggests almost two thirds of British adults (62 percent) are regularly cleaning in between their teeth – three times the number reported 10 years ago. But how we’re cleaning between our teeth is changing too, the survey has found.

The poll, conducted by the Oral Health Foundation, has discovered 34 percent of Brits now use interdental brushes, compared with 31 percent who use traditional floss. It is, say Oral Health Foundation experts, the first time interdental brushes have been more popular than traditional floss. Other methods mentioned in the report are floss tape (used by 17 percent of British adults), floss harps (12 percent) and water flossers (seven percent).

The findings, says Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, show the UK has become more mindful of oral health and hygiene. “The stereotype of Brits having bad teeth is very much a thing of the past,” he says. “As a population, we have become much more health conscious, which extends far beyond our general health and wellbeing, to now include the role which the health of our mouth plays within this too.”

According to Dr Carter, the importance of looking after the health of your gums through a good oral hygiene routine is more important than ever, with research in recent years linking gum disease with health problems such as diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease and dementia.

“Brushing alone only cleans three of the five surfaces of our teeth,” he adds. “So cleaning between them is a critical part of good oral hygiene as it helps to prevent gum disease by removing plaque from areas the toothbrush alone cannot reach.

“We have also found that cleaning in between teeth is particularly important for groups such as the elderly, the very young and those with auto-immune disease, all of who are more susceptible to infections from the bacteria in the mouth.”

Which is best?

But are interdental brushes more effective than traditional floss? Dr Carter advises that the recommendation in this country for some time has been to use interdental brushes rather than floss, since the evidence for their effectiveness is stronger. A recent investigation by the Associated Press also claimed there’s no definitive evidence that dental floss prevents tooth decay or gum disease. So if you’re a flosser, should you switch?

“While there is no suggestion that flossing can be damaging to oral health, there is limited evidence as to its effectiveness,” says Dr Carter. “If you are flossing, and flossing well, it will cause no harm and it is probably not advisable to give up. But you might want to try interdental brushes as an alternative.”

National Smile Month is the UK’s largest and longest-running campaign to promote good oral health, and highlights three key messages:

  1. Brush your teeth last thing at night and on at least one other occasion with a fluoride toothpaste.
  2. Cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks.
  3. Visit your dentist regularly, as often as they recommend.

Find out more about this year’s campaign at

Meanwhile, if you’d like to try interdental brushes, ask your local Careway pharmacist to recommend a product that would suit you. Interdental brushes help prevent gum disease by dislodging pieces of food and plaque from between your teeth. They have small bristled heads designed to clean between your teeth, and are available in different widths to suit the size of the gaps between your teeth (you may need more than one size if you have different sized gaps).

Your gums may bleed a little when you first start using them – this is just because your gums aren’t used to the brushes. But if you keep at it, your gums should stop bleeding and become healthier. Speak to your dentist or dental hygienist if you’re not sure interdental brushes are for you, or if you need advice on how to use them.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.