Is Water Flossing Better Than String Flossing?

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Water flossers or water picks, technically an oral irrigator, if you’re asking, are increasingly popular, but are they effective? Only 32% of adults floss daily, so there is absolutely a need for an easier way to clean between teeth. Going without daily flossing, or some form of interdental cleaning, leaves all of those people, most of us, at serious risk of gum disease. So lets find out if water picks live up to the hype.

Are Water Flossers Better Than String Floss?

Water flossers seem to be very effective according to current research. A 2013 study on the effectiveness of water flossers compared to string floss found that water flossers were “significantly” more effective than string floss. Specifically, they found that after a single use water flossers were 29% more effective at removing plaque. They were particularly better at removing plaque and accumulations from between teeth, and that’s most of why we floss isn’t it?

Something that may be worth considering is that one of the authors of the 2013 study, Deborah Lyle, was employed by the Waterpik corporation from May 2004 until January 2022 as their Director of Clinical Research. Waterpik’s page for clinical research about water flossers lists many studies that include Deborah Lyle as a contributor.

However, other researchers were involved, and other studies exist that point to the effectiveness of water flossers. A 2021 study on the effectiveness of water flossers compared to string floss is an example, though they did not have such strong conclusions as the 2013 Deborah Lyle study did. They found instead that water flossers were just as effective as string floss, not more so. That is why they recommended water flossers to those with braces, retainers or who have fine motor skill issues. 

So, water flossers do seem to work and could potentially replace string floss or floss picks in your oral health routine. But are they superior to string floss? They might be, but considering, there doesn’t seem to be a reason to knock yourself if you haven’t hopped on the bandwagon just yet.

Are There Any Downsides to Water Flossers?

While great at cleaning your teeth, there are a few things to consider before you run out and get one. Water flossers can serve as a breeding ground for bacteria, according to a 2021 study. Put simply, because water flosser heads touch your mouth and stay wet, oral bacteria can grow on it. Even in spite of following provided cleaning recommendations. That’s not all, this study limited itself to studying only the nozzle, not the hose or water reservoir itself. So while trying to clean your mouth there is the possibility that you could be spraying your teeth with bacteria. 

It’s no secret that tooth brushes can be a source of illness and can serve as a breeding ground for bacteria. However, proper storage and sanitary precautions, even ones as simple as rinsing your tooth brush and letting it dry, have been shown to reduce bacteria considerably. Allowing it to dry is crucial and would be much more time consuming to practice with a water flosser. Because a water flosser is a reservoir of water with an attached hose it seems proper cleaning would require draining it and it’s components and allowing them to dryafter each use, at minimum. Certainly more time consuming than standard care and cleaning instructions have you to think is necessary for proper use.

Besides cleanliness, it’s also worth considering that no one is likely to travel with a water flosser. That just means that you’ll need to keep using string floss for overnight stays. That is to say, even if you get a water flosser, don’t throw out all your old string floss. You’ll still need it if you intend to keep up a daily hygiene routine.

If I Get One, What’s The Best Water Flosser? 

The ADA, the American Dental Association, has an approved list of water flossers. The ADA only allows its seal to be used on products which “include data from clinical and/or laboratory studies that demonstrate safety and efficacy according to product category requirements developed by the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs”. The ADA is one of the largest professional organizations for dentists meaning that any product bearing the ADA seal can be reasonably trusted. If you are considering trying a water flosser we strongly encourage you to factor the ADA’s recommendations into your decision.

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