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The importance of interdental cleaning in the prevention and management of periodontal diseases

Date: November 2021

Author: Louise Sinclair

Biofilm is integral in the development of periodontal disease and dental caries. With interdental cleaning supporting prevention, we discuss how dental students can encourage patients to take advantage of this effective oral hygiene tool.

The importance of effective interdental cleaning

Toothbrushing alone cannot effectively remove debris and biofilm in interproximal areas. These missed spots create an environment for biofilm to accumulate, helping to set the stage for oral disease.

Interdental cleaning tools allow for more thorough cleaning and greater biofilm reduction in these hard-to-reach areas. Floss, the most commonly used method, effectively reduces interproximal biofilm when used appropriately.

Motivating your patients

Despite the effectiveness of interdental cleaning, patients can be reluctant to add this habit to their oral hygiene routine. Flossing can feel uncomfortable for some, particularly if there is gingival soreness or inflammation, or if the interdental spaces are very tight. Some patients, particularly children, the elderly and the disabled, may find interdental cleaning to be awkward or difficult due to impaired mobility or dexterity. Others may simply not see the benefit!

As a dental student and future practitioner, you will encounter all of these barriers to adoption and more. So how can you impress upon your patients the importance of daily interdental cleaning?

1. Educate and engage

Most of our patients know that twice-daily toothbrushing is essential for good oral health, but they may be unaware of just how much biofilm and debris is left behind, and how this contributes to dental diseases. Take the time to explain the connection, how gingivitis and dental caries develop, and how interdental cleaning can help prevent them. Patients will also need coaching on how to perform interdental cleaning effectively when using floss or another interdental cleaning tool.

Depending on your patient’s age and learning ability, you may need to think creatively about the educational tools you use. Colgate Professional offers a range of helpful patient education resources, such as:

  • 3D mouth models to demonstrate oral health concepts and techniques.

  • The Gum Health Physical, which provides personalized, take-home reports and guidance.

  • Educational videos and articles on oral health and hygiene.

  • Digital materials to share on websites and social media.

2. Provide tangible evidence

The early stages of biofilm accumulation are invisible to the patient, and they may not have a sense of urgency about a problem they cannot “see”. You can overcome this by providing them with tangible evidence.

One effective tool is a plaque disclosing tablet. Encourage the patient to use after brushing and then show them the extent of the biofilm left behind. You can also repeat this after interdental cleaning, or at future appointments, to illustrate improvements.

3. Explore different options

Finally, be curious about why your patient is reluctant to take up interdental cleaning. There are so many options on the market to make interdental cleaning simple, so work with your patient to find out what suits them.

For example, orthodontic patients can use floss threaders, or may find it easier to use picks. Those with tight interdental spaces might find it easier to use tape, while those with large spaces may prefer interdental brushes.

Don’t get hung up on the most effective option. The best interdental cleaning method for your patient is the one they’re willing and able to use every day. As long as they’re incorporating interdental cleaning into their daily oral hygiene routine, consider it a win for periodontal disease prevention!