Interdental brushes are specially designed to clean between teeth and reach other areas that a regular toothbrush can't. Many people find that using an interdental toothbrush is easier than flossing, while others do both as part of a thorough oral hygiene routine.
If you're new to between-teeth brushing, or you want to know whether you're doing it correctly, you probably have questions along these lines:
- How do I use an interdental brush?
- What size should I use?
- Should I use an interdental brush before or after brushing?
- How many times can you reuse them?
- Can they damage gums?
- What's the difference between the big brands like TePe, GUM and Oral-B?
- Are there any eco-friendly alternatives?
Well, you're in the right place because we are going to answer these questions—and more—in our guide to interdental brushes.
Table of contents
What is an interdental brush?
Simply put, an interdental brush is a tiny toothbrush designed for cleaning between teeth. They can also be handy for cleaning around fixed braces and at the very back of your mouth.
Interdental brushes (also called interproximal brushes) typically have a filament held in place by a metal wire, a bit like a mini bottle brush. The wire can be angled or bent to make it easier to reach certain spots in the mouth. A handle attached to the wire lets you maneuver the brush to clean away plaque and food debris trapped between teeth.
Interdental toothbrushes come in different sizes to fit different sized gaps between teeth. Some are disposable, whereas others consist of a longer handle and replaceable brush heads. We're going to go into more detail about these different options later on so you can figure out which is the best interdental brush for your needs.
Interdental brushes vs flossing
You might be wondering whether it's better to use interdental brushes vs floss—especially if you find traditional floss quite difficult to use. Well, the good news is that various studies have shown that using interdental brushes is an effective alternative to flossing. Interproximal brushing can even be more effective at removing plaque than regular flossing, according to this research.
However, you may find that even the smallest interdental brushes are too big to fit between some of the gaps in your teeth. If this is the case, you should still floss those gaps to remove plaque.
If you're unsure whether to use interdental brushes or floss (or both!), it's best to ask your dentist. Their answer may depend on your current oral health and the positioning of your teeth, or they might just recommend using whatever you find easier.
Read more about flossing in our guide about how to floss your teeth and the best products to use.
Can interproximal brushes damage gums?
Used correctly, interdental brushes should clean plaque from the gumline between teeth but shouldn't cause any damage to the gums. It's normal for your gums to bleed a little when you first start using them. This is a sign of early gum disease (gingivitis), but your new cleaning habits will help improve your gum health. Keep up your brushing for a few days, and the bleeding should subside.
If any pain or bleeding continues for more than a week or two, speak to your dentist. You might need a professional teeth cleaning to remove tartar buildup. Or, it may be that you need to try a smaller size or angle the brush differently. Our instructions a little further down will help you avoid damaging your gums caused by using the wrong technique.
What's the difference between an interdental and interspace toothbrush?
An interspace toothbrush, or single-tufted toothbrush, is another type of brush designed to reach tricky spots in your mouth. It contains just one small bundle of filaments. These filaments are arranged in a point rather than sticking out to the sides like an interdental brush.
Interspace brushes can be useful for cleaning around implants, crowns, bridgework and fixed braces, but they can't be used for cleaning between teeth. Ask your dentist if you're unsure which type of brush you should use.
Interdental brush sizes
Interproximal toothbrushes come in a range of sizes to suit different needs. The smallest interdental brushes should fit between tightly packed teeth, whereas larger sizes are suitable for cleaning around braces, denture implants, and gaps left by missing teeth.
Interproximal brush size guide
Manufacturers color-code their brushes to make it easy to tell different sizes apart. Unfortunately, they don't all use the same colors nor do they all denote size using millimeters, instead, relying on sizes like “standard” or “tight.”
In the table below you can see the sizes offered by TePe and the corresponding colors. There is an ISO sizing standard which numbers brushes from 0 to 8, but not all manufacturers use this.
The smallest interdental brush featured here is the pink .4 mm one from TePe, which you can purchase from TePe here.
Wire size (mm)
Choosing the right sized interproximal brush
It's important to choose the right size for each of the spaces you need to clean. Too small, and the brush may not clean effectively. Too large, and you risk damaging your teeth or gums in the process. Of course, this may mean you need to use a number of different sized brushes to perform a complete teeth cleaning.
The brush should fit comfortably into the gap between your teeth. Inserting it should only require slight pressure. If it feels like you're forcing it, stop and try a smaller size.
Your dentist will be able to measure the spaces between your teeth and advise you of the interdental brush size(s) you should use. But if you want to know what size interdental brush to use without visiting a dentist, try purchasing a multipack with a
variety of different sizes.
This mixed pack of TePe interdental brushes has one of each size from 0 to 7 (0.4 mm to 1.3 mm). Buying this is a very cost-effective way to figure out which sizes you need before buying larger quantities of each.
If you prefer an angled brush (more on these below) then you can buy this pack of six from TePe with all six sizes from 0 to 5.
How to use interdental brushes
Once you have selected the correct size brush for the gaps in your teeth, it can take some time to get used to interdental brushing. It might help to stand in front of a mirror at first, until you can do it without looking.
Here are the steps for how to use an interdental brush:
- Make sure you're using the correct size of brush for each gap.
- Gently press the brush into the space between two teeth, along the gum. Twisting the brush slightly as you insert it can make insertion easier and also extend the life of the brush.
- Brush backward and forward several times (unless your dentist instructs you to brush more or you are using a brush which only requires one stroke).
- Carefully remove the brush and move onto the next gap. Change interdental brush sizes as you move around your mouth to ensure you're using the right size.
If your brush wire breaks or some bristles come loose while you're using it, discard it and continue with a brand new one.
You can see all about how to use these and why they work in the following video:
Cleaning between the teeth at the front of the mouth should be quite easy with a regular straight interdental brush. The gaps towards the back of the mouth can be harder to reach, though. There are a few ways you can make access to back teeth easier:
- Try inserting the brush from the inside (next to the tongue or the roof of the mouth) rather than the outside
- Curve the wire slightly around your finger
- Bend the wire at an angle (use a brush with a flexible head to reduce the likelihood of the wire breaking)
- Choose a long-handled interdental brush with an angled head, like the TePe Angle Interdental Brush.
You should use your interdental brush to clean between teeth in this way once a day, while still brushing in the normal way twice a day. See our teeth-brushing guide for more on how to brush your teeth properly.
The best time to clean between your teeth is in the evening. This way, you know that there is no food left between your teeth while you sleep (a common cause of bad morning breath). However, if the morning suits you better, the important thing is that you're doing it at least once a day.
Should you use interdental brushes before or after brushing?
The ADA says that it doesn't matter whether you brush or floss first, just as long as you do both. The Oral Health Foundation in the UK, however, recommends interdental cleaning before brushing. Ask your dentist what they recommend, and remember that if interdental cleaning after brushing is the only way you'll do it, then that is way better than not cleaning between teeth at all.
Can you reuse interdental brushes?
Yes. You only need to change your interdental brush when the bristles start to show signs of wear or the wire gives way. Each brush might last 1–2 weeks or more, depending on how much you use it. Certain manufacturers market their brushes as having better durability, so you might want to try a few and see which lasts longest for you.
If you don't like the idea of throwing away plastic brushes so often, check out more eco-friendly alternatives that we cover later on.
Just like a normal toothbrush, you should rinse interdental brushes after each use to keep them clean.
The best interdental brush brands in the US
So, now you know how to use interdental brushes, but which is the best brand and type for you? Below we cover some of the biggest brands in the US, as well as some lesser-known ones which offer different features.
TePe interdental brushes
Swedish company TePe is one of the leading names in the specialist toothbrush market. Their wide range of interdental and interspace toothbrushes should suit pretty much every need, whether it's cleaning a tiny gap between teeth or larger spaces around implants.
TePe's original interproximal brushes come in nine sizes and they also have extra-soft versions in six sizes (0.45, 0.5, 0.6, 0.7, 0.8 and 1.1 mm). The four smallest sizes (from 0.4 to 0.6 mm) have a flexible neck which provides extra durability.
Tepe Angle interdental brushes have a longer handle, more like a regular toothbrush, with an angled head designed to reach in between teeth at the back of the mouth.
You can buy TePe interdental brushes in most pharmacies, larger supermarkets, and many dental practices. However, you might find the cheapest TePe interdental brushes on the TePe website, where you can save by buying in bulk. The pink interdental brushes (pictured) are the smallest available from TePe, but you can browse the full range of sizes by clicking below or selecting a mixed pack of the originals, mentioned above, to try out different sizes.
You can also purchase them on Amazon if you prefer.
TePe brushes are manufactured to high ISO standards, but one big downside to them is the amount of plastic waste, since no parts of their brushes are reusable.
GUM interdental brushes
GUM interdental brushes or “Proxabrush” as they call it, can be bought in packs of 10 of all the same size. The upside of this is that if you have a size you like then you're not getting sizes that you don't need. However, if you have different size requirements for different teeth, you'll have to buy another pack in a different size. Thankfully they aren't too expensive, averaging on Amazon at just over $5 for a pack of 10.
If you prefer an angled interdental brush, GUM also has an option for that. It comes with a handy and compact travel case, and you can buy it in bulk on Amazon.
If your dentist has recommended that you use an interdental brush, but you feel bad about all of the plastic waste that these seemingly innocuous cleaners create, GUM has a solution for that, too.
You can buy a GUM Proxabrush reusable handle that will work with tight, moderate and wide heads.
Oral-B interdental brushes
Fans of Oral-B will be happy to know that you can buy an Oral-B interproximal brush as well. You'll get a handle that is just as ergonomic as your Oral-B toothbrush handle, and that can be easily refilled thanks to its easy snap-lock head. This Oral-B interdental brush handle comes with two refills to get you started on your journey to cleaner teeth and gums!
You can also get a single-tufted interspace brush as we mentioned above, like this Oral-B interproximal brush head, which uses the same base as your normal Oral-B electric toothbrush head.
Dentek Easy Brush interdental cleaners
Another extremely popular option is the Dentek Easy Brush. These interdental cleaners are great for cleaning around dental work such as braces and bridges. They also have a handle with a flexible hold, meaning it stays in position when bent. There's also a cap that keeps the brush clean, and when removed can be attached to the handle to extend the handle's length and make it easier to hold.
Another thing people love about the Dentek interproximal brush is that it is flavored with mint, so your mouth feels super fresh when you're done.
Dentek also claims to have the only brush on the market with an advanced fluoride coating for even cleaner teeth and stronger enamel.
One happy customer says:
“I have never found any dental picks as good as these (tried many brands and types). Great for traveling with their protective covers!”
Piksters Interdental Brush
The Piksters brushes are reusable and come with 40 different color-coded size options. They also come in a resealable packaging so they won't spill all over your purse or your medicine cabinet. The handle is slim and ergonomic and you can also use a connector handle from Piksters to make the brushes longer.
Here's what one happy braces wearer had to say:
“I bought these in size 6. The are perfect for getting between braces. The heads are much bigger and sturdier than the little ones you find in the store so they don't bend all over the place when you use them, which is great.”
If you don't like the idea of using so much disposable plastic, unfortunately, there aren't many options for bamboo interdental brushes available in the US at the moment, but you can find more about your plastic-free floss options in our separate article.
Meanwhile, have a look at some more sustainable between-teeth cleaning options to consider.
Replaceable brush heads
Firstly, you could look for an interdental toothbrush with replaceable heads. Although still made from plastic, the amount of waste each time you need to replace the brush head is minimal. Choosing a high-quality brand like GUM (described above) means you won't need to replace your brush heads as often, either.
Water flossers (oral irrigators)
A completely different option would be to invest in a water flosser, an electronic device that shoots a high-powered jet of water to clean between the teeth (think of it as an electric interdental brush). Are they as effective as manual interdental brushing or flossing? Perhaps not quite, but the big brands like cariPRO and Oral-B are improving their technology all the time. An added bonus is that they are very easy to use, so you're more likely to keep up daily use.
Of course, this option still involves a plastic device—plus it uses electricity—so you'll need to decide which is the lesser of two evils in your mind. But assuming you get a good few years' use out of your water flosser, it might be less environmentally damaging than going through hundreds of little plastic brushes.
Check out our water flosser guide if you want to know more about oral irrigators, how they work, and how much they cost.
Cleaning between teeth is an important part of your daily oral hygiene routine. Interdental brushes are an effective alternative to string floss, and they are available in different sizes to suit any kind of space between teeth.
When choosing the best interdental brush for you, consider the following:
- Are you prepared to pay more for a higher-quality, durable brush that will last longer?
- Do you need a long-handled brush with an angled head for reaching your back teeth?
- Do you need brushes in a variety of sizes for cleaning different-sized gaps?
- Would you prefer a less wasteful option like replaceable heads or even a water flosser?
We hope the information in this guide has helped you understand interdental brush sizes and designs so you can select one that meets your needs.
ResearchGate: Comparison Between Interdental Brush and Dental Floss for Controlling Interproximal Biofilm in Teeth and Implants. Consulted 3rd December 2019.
Oral Health Foundation: Which comes first, brushing or flossing? New study shows that we should clean between our teeth before brushing. Consulted 3rd December 2019.
ADA: Floss/Interdental Cleaners. Consulted 3rd December 2019.