Is Water Flossing Better Than Regular Flossing? A Dentist Weighs In

Photo: Stocksy/ Guille Faingold
You might've heard this, but it bears repeating: Flossing is pretty vital for your oral health. For some, it comes naturally and is an integral part of a daily routine. For others, it's not that easy. I would say I fall somewhere in the middle. Sometimes I run out of floss and forget about it for a minute, or I get my teeth cleaned and return to flossing with renewed determination. So if you, like me, have trouble sticking to a flossing routine—you might wonder about viable alternatives. More specifically, you might wonder if water flossers can adequately do the job.

Water flossing, popularly known as "waterpiks," after a popular brand of water flossers. Even though it seems like a more modern device, the first "oral irrigator" was invented in 1962, according to the Compendium of Continuing Dental Education medical library. Some confusion about whether it's as effective as string flossing, but Mansi Oza, BDS, DMD, FICOI, double board-certified, cosmetic dentist, and the owner of her practice, Thurmont Smiles, has some encouraging insight.

Why does anyone need to floss

Here are some quick numbers to lay out why flossing is essential: In a 2020 study published in the Journal of Dental Research, researchers found that people over 65 who didn't floss lost an average of 75 percent more teeth than those who did.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends flossing twice a day via regular floss, interdental brushes, or oral irrigators to reduce the build-up of debris, plaque, and bacteria that accumulates between teeth (where a toothbrush can't reach). And any method of flossing is recommended over no flossing at all, the ADA says. The ADA shared in their 2016 report that they had ample evidence to support flossing for gum health. However, they determined that additional research about water flossers is necessary to understand their long-term efficacy. Water flossers with the ADA Seal of Acceptance have been tested rigorously and proven to be effective at removing gingival plaque.

So is string flossing better than water flossing

Before we delve into the science, it's important to state the following: Your best bet is whatever method helps you reach hard places and keep the habit, Dr. Oza says. However, the evidence for water flossing is encouraging. An older study published by the Journal of Clinical Dentistry examined the use of water floss and regular floss. Researchers found water flossers to be more effective than their analog counterparts. And a 2021 clinical trial compared the efficacy of brushing with string floss to brushing with water floss and found that water flossers were a good tool for those that found flossing to be a challenge. However, the findings indicated that regular floss was slightly more effective at removing gingival plaque.

"Many people find [water flossers] easier to use," says Dr. Oza, adding that water flossers don't remove all the plaque that builds up between the teeth. "It tends to remove newly-formed plaque easily, whereas the string floss will remove more stubborn plaque," she says. You can, however, count on the water flossers to reach under your gums, where floss might not. The best strategy she recommends? Both.

Ultimately, water flossing is best for people with braces, crowded teeth, permanent retainers, mental health disorders, sensory aversions, or dexterity trouble. Flossing can be difficult to stick to for many reasons that range from logistical to emotional. If you have gone a while without flossing, it can be shame-inducing to reassert the habit. The solution for this is an abundance of patience with yourself and seeking solutions that work for you. If you feel frustrated when flossing because you can't reach your teeth with string, a water flosser make it less infuriating.

Dr. Oza also shared that when one doesn't clean between their teeth via flossing, they're overlooking around 35 percent of the surface area of the teeth. (Bad-smelling floss will let you know it, too.) Over time, this can affect your oral health and health as a whole. So if you find something that works for you, it's always worth a try.


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