Ask the dentist: Keeping clean in-between

Dentist Lucy Stock reveals some of the more interesting – and wrong – ways people clean between their teeth

Cleaning between our teeth is very important as a build-up of bacteria can lead to tooth decay and gum disease
Lucy Stock

IT APPEARS that our imaginations are running wild when it comes to choosing teeth cleaning implements.

Earrings, crisp packets and a pen knife were some of the more unusual items used to maintain our oral health, according to a poll from the Oral Health Foundation.

As part of National Smile Month, the survey asked respondents what they used to clean in between their teeth.

Outside of interdental brushing and flossing, cocktail sticks came top (39 per cent) of the undesirable items, with a large number of us also reaching for business cards (10 per cent) and bank notes (4 per cent) to remove that bit of left over lunch.

Maybe we haven't come all that far from people living in the Stone Age; markings on teeth found in caves dating back to that period suggest that ancient man used makeshift toothpicks likely fashioned from wood or bone to remove seeds and bone fragments from between his teeth.

"I am sure we have all experienced it, getting a bit of rogue food stuck between our teeth after eating and then reaching for whatever is on hand to dig it out, but this habit is putting our mouths in serious danger," says Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation.

"Reaching for an earring or business card may be convenient, or even sound amusing, but is actually very concerning.

"Items such as this can easily damage the tooth and do real harm to the gums, as well as risking infection by being incredibly unhygienic."

There are an abundance of products on the market that are specially designed to safely clean between teeth.

Toothbrush bristles alone can't effectively clean the tight spaces between teeth. Ideally, every time we eat we should clean out the food trapped between teeth to limit teeth eating bacteria's ability to multiply.

Dr Carter adds: "Cleaning between our teeth every day is very important as, otherwise, we are only cleaning two-thirds of the surface of our teeth. Bacteria can then build up and this can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and eventually even tooth loss.

"Our gums can be very sensitive and once damaged take a long time to recover – so please put those bank notes down, you really don't know where they have been.

"And make sure you keep some dental floss on hand, just in case you need it."


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