Dental Floss vs. Waterpik®: Which is Better?

We know.  Everyone hates flossing.  It is so tempting to “cram” all of your flossing into the week before your next dental appointment.  (We can tell when you do that, BTW . . .)

Flossing is essential to remove the plaque that builds up and attaches to the sides of the teeth where your toothbrush cannot reach.  Water flossers, like WaterPik®, have been around for decades, and recent studies show that they might give traditional flossing a run for its money!

Why is Water Flossing a Good Idea?

white and blue machine that looks like a toothbrush attached to a container
Where floss can be difficult to manipulate, water flossers are simple to use.

Dental scientists and engineers developed water flossers because of one simple fact: the vast majority of people do not floss regularly.  There are many reasons given for skipping the floss, and the water flossers aim to replace flossing by overcoming those reasons.  Where floss can be difficult to manipulate, water flossers are simple to use.  Where floss can hurt between teeth pressed tightly together, the water flosser is gentle and zero-impact.

The biggest reason water flossing is a good idea: it is better than not flossing at all!

For years, dentists have argued that nothing can match flossing for plaque removal and healthy gums.  And while many still believe that is true, it goes without saying that using a water flosser will remove more plaque than not flossing at all.

Is Water Flossing Safe?

Yes.

For some time, there were questions regarding the safety of the high pressure used in water flossers.  Opponents proposed that it could actually tear the gums attachment to the teeth and force bacteria into the gums.  A 2015 review of numerous studies concluded that these claims are false, and the water flosser model poses no risks to the health of gum tissue.

There is no increased risk for a water flosser pushing bacteria into the blood stream (bacteremia).  By “increased risk”, we mean that it is no different from brushing and traditional flossing.

Is Water Flossing Effective?

Yes.

A 2009 study showed that water flossers removed 99.9% of plaque biofilm from tooth surfaces.  Think of it as a power washer for your teeth.  The pressure of the water blasts away the soft plaque buildup that collects between the teeth.

Older woman flossing in front of the mirror
Traditional floss physically passes through the contact, clearing away any plaque buildup where the teeth actually touch.

It is important to note that neither traditional nor water flossing removes hard tartar buildup (also called calculus).  A dentist or dental hygienist must remove this mineralized accumulation with specialized instruments during a professional teeth cleaning.

One valid argument against the effectiveness of water flossing is that the water does not separate the contact (the area two teeth touch each other) the way traditional floss does.  The floss physically passes through the contact, clearing away any plaque buildup where the teeth actually touch.  A water flosser does not separate the teeth, so it does not remove plaque from this area.  This is an important consideration for people with a high risk for developing cavities between the teeth.

Pros and Cons of Water Flossing

Pros of water flossing include:

  • Better patient compliance than traditional flossing
  • Better plaque removal if patient does not have a good technique with traditional floss
  • Fast – studies show 99% plaque removal with only 3 seconds of water pressure between two teeth
  • Simple to use

Cons of water flossing include:

  • Expensive – various models range from $40-150
  • Tips require replacement
  • Can be messy
  • Does not remove plaque in contact area
  • Requires power to charge unit

Pros and Cons of Traditional Flossing

mouth of woman putting putting floss tool with string attached inside it in between her teeth
Floss picks do not provide the best flossing technique, so they fall behind traditional floss and water flossing.

Pros of traditional flossing include:

  • Very inexpensive
  • Only way to remove plaque in contact area, so better for patients with high risk for between-the-teeth cavities
  • Portable – easy to have on hand at all times
  • No electricity requirement
  • Additional tools like floss picks are available for hard-to-reach places. Note – these do not provide the best flossing technique, so they fall to third in the ranking of plaque removal behind traditional floss and water flossing.

Cons of traditional flossing include:

  • Technique sensitive – many people do not remove all plaque with flossing due to poor technique
  • Can cause tenderness and gum irritation in areas of tight contacts
  • Poor compliance – difficult for people to commit to on a daily basis

Which is Best: Water Flossing vs. Traditional Flossing?

You probably will not like our answer.  Dentists agree that for the absolute best plaque removal and oral hygiene, you should do both!  By combining traditional flossing with a water flossing, you make up for any areas of plaque missed by poor technique with traditional floss.  You also remove plaque caught between the teeth in the contact area that a water flosser would miss.

The best person to help you make the decision is your dental hygienist.  He or she sees your teeth and gums, as well as your typical plaque buildup, on a regular basis.  Tell her what technique you are currently using and ask how you can do better.  It may be that you need to improve your technique with traditional flossing.  It may be that a water flosser would help you clean large gaps underneath dental bridges or implants.  It is important to get customized recommendations for your mouth.

More Questions about Flossing?

Call today to schedule a professional teeth cleaning with our wonderful dental hygienists.  They, along with our dentists, can answer any questions you have about flossing, and they will give you personalized recommendations for how to keep your mouth healthy and clean.