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Water Flosser
  • Water flossers remove plaque and debris from teeth like regular floss, but the electric device uses a stream of water rather than string.
  • According to the American Dental Association, water flossers are effective at removing plaque and reducing gingivitis.
  • You can use a water flosser if you have braces or other dental hardware, and in these cases a water flosser can actually be easier to use than regular floss.
  • Water flossers are not a replacement for electric toothbrushes, as the devices have two different purposes.

You know you should be flossing, but sometimes it can be really hard to motivate yourself to do it. Not only does flossing add an extra step to your teeth cleaning regime, floss can be tricky to maneuver and flossing may make your gums bleed.

Enter the water flosser, a device that shoots a concentrated stream of water to remove food from between your teeth.

In this article, we’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about water flossing, including whether it removes plaque, if it can be done while you’re wearing braces, and if it hurts like regular floss.

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Why is flossing important?

Brushing your teeth is great for removing plaque and debris from the outside surface of your teeth, but it can’t remove food from between your teeth. This is where flossing comes in. If you don’t remove the plaque and food debris from between your teeth, it can build up over time, causing tooth decay and gum disease.

Even if you brush your teeth religiously, your brush still won’t properly clean between your teeth, so flossing regularly is extremely important.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes and flossing once a day.

Does a water flosser actually remove plaque?

It may seem odd that a stream of water can clean your teeth, but as long as the water flossing device is approved by the ADA, it should remove plaque, food, and debris, and reduce bleeding and inflammation of the gums.

The current ADA-approved water flossers can be found here.

To date, only a few Waterpik water flossers are approved by the ADA, so beware of knockoff and counterfeit products that might not be certified.

“Powered flossers, including water flossers, have been shown to result in a reduction in interdental plaque deposits and gingival bleeding when compared to tooth brushing alone. The magnitude of this reduction is variable and dependent upon the type and design of powered flosser,” says Dr. Maria L. Geisinger, DDS, assistant professor of periodontology in the School of Dentistry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Dr. Geisinger adds however that “there is no conclusive evidence that demonstrates water flossing’s equivalence or superiority to string floss.”

Waterpik Cordless Freedom Water Flosser

Waterpik Cordless Freedom Water Flosser

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Can you use a Waterpik if you have braces?

Water flossers can more easily maneuver around braces, lingual braces, and other orthodontics, as well as bridges, crowns, and dental implants — pretty much any hardware in your mouth that can impede regular flossing.

Indeed, because such hardware — especially braces — can trap food and other debris, it’s particularly important to clean around it to make sure nothing is stuck next to or between your teeth.

“Water flossers are a great alternative for patients with difficult to clean areas such as braces or other dental hardware,” confirms New York City based dentist Dr. Timothy Chase, DMD.

Who else should consider a Waterpik?

Water flossers can also be a good option for people who have trouble flossing by hand due to conditions that impair dexterity, such as arthritis.

In addition, if you’re a reluctant flosser or have very sensitive gums that are prone to bleeding when you floss regularly, a Waterpik device can be a good “gateway” into flossing, since water flossing is easier than regular floss and doesn’t require that you put your hands in your mouth.

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Does a Waterpik hurt like regular flossing can?

Generally speaking, if a Waterpik is used correctly — with warm water on a low pressure setting at the correct angle — it shouldn’t cause pain.

In fact, one study even found that a water flosser (a.k.a “oral irrigator”) was significantly more effective at reducing gingival bleeding as compared to traditional dental floss, and another study found that participants who used water flossers had “significantly greater bleeding reduction than the string floss group.”

“Water flossing shouldn’t hurt your gums, whereas string floss can hurt when there are tight contacts between your teeth,” says Dr. Marc Ackerman, DMD, MBA, FACD, Director of Orthodontics at Boston Children’s Hospital.

However, if you haven’t been flossing regularly or have never flossed before, you may experience about two weeks of discomfort after starting to use the Waterpik as your gums get used to the process.

If your discomfort lasts beyond two weeks, or if your gums hurt, redden, swell, or bleed, contact your dentist to make sure you don’t have any other issues with your gums.

Is it better than an electric toothbrush?

While both water flossers and electric toothbrushes run on electricity and clean your teeth, there’s not much sense in comparing one to the other.

That’s because the purpose of an electric toothbrush — just like the purpose of a regular toothbrush — is to remove plaque from the outside surface of the teeth, not to remove food and other debris from between the teeth, which is the purpose of flossing.

Water flossers and electric toothbrushes are more of a both/and pairing rather than an either/or situation.

There is evidence however that an electric toothbrush might have a slight edge over regular toothbrushes.

For example, a 2014 Cochrane review that looked at 56 scientific studies concluded that “powered toothbrushes reduce plaque and gingivitis more than manual toothbrushing in the short and long term.” However, the review did acknowledge that “the clinical importance of these findings remains unclear.”

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Can water flossers help with gum disease?

As long as the water flossing device has been approved by the ADA, it can help reduce both plaque and gingivitis (i.e., inflammation of the gums), both of which can be precursors to gum disease.

In the words of the American Dental Association: “Water flossers that have earned the ADA Seal of Acceptance have been tested to be safe and effective at removing a sticky film called plaque, which puts you at a higher risk for cavities and gum disease. Water flossers with the ADA Seal can also help reduce gingivitis, the early form of gum disease, throughout your mouth and between your teeth.”

Can a Waterpik damage teeth or gums?

There is some concern that the water jets of a Waterpik can damage the mouth, specifically the soft tissues of the gums, as well as drive debris deeper into the pocket (i.e., the area where the gums meet the teeth). But these concerns appear largely unfounded.

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As a literature review published in the Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry concluded, “Evidence based on such studies and decades of use by the public continues to support their safety and efficacy and disproves suggestions of possible detrimental effects on the attachment, junctional epithelium, or pocket depth.”

Most reports of Waterpik damage come from incorrect use of the device. “There have been reports of powered flossers damaging the gingival attachment around teeth if used improperly, at too high a setting, and/or at sites that have recently sustained trauma or surgery,” Dr. Geisinger says.

“It would be difficult to cause any damage using a water flosser if used as directed,” Dr. Chase notes. “If you have any questions on how to use it properly, consult your dentist.”

If you’re still feeling skeptical, or if you’re just especially committed to your oral health, you can actually combine regular flossing and water flossing. First, floss using traditional string to loosen the plaque, then use the water flosser to flush away the debris. Follow it up with a thorough brushing, using a fluoride toothpaste, to get rid of any stubborn plaque stains.

Of course, in addition to flossing once a day and brushing your teeth twice a day, you should be getting them professionally cleaned by a dentist twice a year to ensure that all the plaque is removed.

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