With an unexpected burst, my Waterpik Sidekick Water Flosser ($126) splashed into my life, surprising me in the same kind of way one might experience at a Sea World show (in pre-COVID times, when experiences like visiting Sea World were a thing that could happen). I quickly learned from that first instance of using my new water flosser that I’m no expert, and given that making a dentist appointment in the midst of the pandemic has been low priority for me, refining my at-home dental-hygiene routine is all the more important.
But, before explaining why using one is so important, here’s a refresher on what a water flosser even is (in case you’ve never had the pleasure of getting splashed by one): It’s a handheld device that uses water pressure to get the bacteria, plaque, and gunk out between your teeth. And not to sound like THAT guilt-tripping dental hygienist, but those things all matter a lot because they can impact your overall health.
“It’s essential to target food and plaque in-between the teeth because, if neglected, good oral health can deteriorate very quickly,” says Chris Strandburg, DDS, dentist and spokesperson for WaterPik. “Bacteria are the enemy, and they thrive between teeth and below the gum line. Their mission is to enter the body and colonize.”
The first strategy to employ to effectively bite back on bacteria is maintaining the basics of oral hygiene. To do this, Dr. Strandburg advises brushing your teeth twice a day, but even doing this won’t reach the tight spaces between teeth, around dental work, and below the gum line. Some research even suggests that water flossing may be more powerful than ye olde string floss at reaching those spots: One Waterpik-commissioned study from 2013 compared results from participants using a toothbrush and Waterpik to participants using a tooth brush and string floss. The results showed that the Waterpik removed 29 percent more plaque than dental floss when used with a manual toothbrush. As a bonus, from my experience, water flossing is less likely than string floss to make your gums ache afterward.
“Water flossing is a smart alternative to traditional floss whereby water is pushed between the teeth, removing the debris, plaque, and bacteria without actually traumatizing the gum tissues.” —Vanessa Creaven, DMD
“Often the feedback we receive from our patients in terms of their reluctance to floss is that it can cause pain, bleeding, and difficulty manipulating the floss around certain back teeth,” says dentist Vanessa Creaven, DMD, co-founder of Spotlight Oral Care. “Water flossing is a smart alternative to traditional floss whereby water is pushed between the teeth, removing the debris, plaque, and bacteria without actually traumatizing the gum tissues.”
Here’s how my life (and oral hygiene) changed after water flossing with the Waterpik Sidekick.
Shop now: Waterpik Sidekick, $126
After getting splashed on my first try, I sought to become a water flossing expert with the Waterpik Sidekick. For this particular water flosser, you want to fill the basin with lukewarm water because using cold water might aggravate sensitive teeth. Next, get comfortable using a toggle to control the water pressure to your desired intensity (you can practice into the sink). Now, it’s action time: With your head over the sink and your mouth slightly agape (so water can flow out rather than fill your cheeks as if you were a blowfish), direct the water flosser between each tooth in a natural succession.
Mastering this technique took me several…dozen tries, so if you too end up in the Waterpik Sidekick splash zone, know you’re in good company. But eventually, I got the hang of the device, and I started to see real results. Joyfully, these results came with less pain than I’ve experienced using string floss. (My mouth no longer bleeds like I’m an extra in “Thriller” when I target in-between-tooth plaque.)
Some of these results were even cosmetic. Despite always being a diligent brusher, the edges of my teeth have long had yellow buildup, which is perhaps the curse of being a caffeine fiend for two decades. After some time using the water flosser, the obnoxious halos at my gum line started to recede. More important than appearance alone, my mouth feels generally cleaner after using the Waterpik Sidekick, which doesn’t just aim to floss, but pretty much washes your gums as well.
That said, if a toothbrush is the Batman of oral care (that is to say, the prime superhero), a water flosser is definitely Robin. You don’t particularly need it, but when used properly, it’s a magnificent ally (used improperly, it’s more like a Batman & Robin hot mess). So if you’re a diligent, disciplined adult who wants to upgrade your dental routine (or simply hates pulling string between your molars), I highly recommend a water flossing device as the sidekick to your oral-care game.
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