Even if flossing isn’t your favorite thing to do, you know deep down inside that it’s what you’re supposed to be doing on the daily (whoops). According to dentist Dr. David Chen, DDS, flossing is important because it removes plaque and food debris from between your teeth that you may have missed while brushing so you don’t get a build-up of gunk — which eventually turns into tartar and cavities. Along with brushing, flossing plays a major role in maintaining your oral health.
But there’s more than one way to do it: So, does it matter if you go with dental flossing vs. Waterpiks? Regular dental floss is, of course, that ultra-thin string, and a Waterpik — or water flosser, water jet, or oral irrigator — is a device that sprays a stream of H2O between your teeth to get gunk out. “The concept behind it is similar to using a garden hose to clean your driveway or wash your car,” Chen tells Bustle. “High-pressured water removes the debris.”
Traditionally, dentists have always recommended good old-fashioned flossing. According Chen, that’s because the manual pressure of a string of floss is enough to scrape semi-hard plaque from your teeth — something a water flosser isn’t powerful enough to do. “Both will remove soft plaque, but once it hardens, it becomes tartar,” he says. “Hard tartar cannot be removed with either, but tartar that is not completely hard can still be removed with flossing.”
Chen says it’s best to floss (with dental floss) at least once a day. “Ideally, it should be used at night because it’s when you are asleep that the soft plaque turns into hard tartar,” he explains. That said, there is a time and place for water flossers, and plenty of good things about them, too. Here’s what you need to know about Waterpiks vs. dental floss.
When To Use A Water Flosser
Water flossers come in handy if you have black triangles, aka tiny spaces between your teeth where food tends to get caught. Chen says a water flosser can blast the food particles right out of your black triangles, especially if you hold the spout up against your teeth to maintain good pressure.
Water flossers are also a good choice if you have limited mobility in your arms or hands, or if you struggle to finagle a piece of floss between tight teeth or around braces or other dental work. “Flossing requires high manual dexterity skills,” says Chen. “Sometimes it is even difficult for your dentist to get the floss through your last molars. A water flosser is a wonderful alternative for those who have trouble flossing or simply don't like it.”
This flossing method can also come in clutch if you’re having issues with your gums. According to Elizabeth Cranford Robinson, DMD of Cranford Dental, the water and pressure work together to flush out food and bacteria hiding in your gums. “This helps irrigate hard-to-reach areas,” she says, which is why she tends to recommend Waterpiks to her patients.
If you can’t bear to floss with a string, then trust that a water jet will be perfectly adequate for everyday use. “Due to the pressure it applies against your teeth, gums, and mouth, it can clean out bacteria and plaque,” says Dr. Brad Eckhardt, DDS, dentist and owner of Elite Dental Centers. The main downsides, Eckhardt says, are that water flossers do not clean all the plaque present inside your mouth. They’re also pricy and can be messy to use.
How To Use A Water Flosser
Here, Robinson explains how to properly use a Waterpik.
- Lean over the sink, looking down rather than in the mirror to avoid making a mess.
- Point the water flosser tip down into the gums between the teeth.
- Allow the water to fall out of your mouth into the sink as you spray.
- Move the water flosser tube around your mouth, getting between teeth and along your gum line.
- Food and other debris will flush from under the gums into the sink.
When To Use Dental Floss
Regular flossing is always going to be a tried and true method. According to Eckhardt, many studies have shown that dental flossing combined with daily brushing produces excellent results. “These oral hygiene practices reduce a person's chances of experiencing mild gum disease or gingivitis,” he explains. “Flossing after daily brushing sessions also reduces the plaque level that is present in the mouth.”
Flossing is the way to go if your plaque is in the in-between phase of transforming into hard tartar, Chen says. “When plaque is semi-hard, the floss can sometimes reach underneath of it and you can floss it out with a little bit of effort.”
How To Floss Properly
Here, Eckhardt shares how to floss effectively.
- Break off a 20-inch piece of floss.
- Wrap both ends around your middle fingers, leaving about two inches in between.
- Tighten the floss with your thumbs and index fingers and place the taut string between your teeth.
- Gently glide the floss string up and down. Make sure not to do it too hard.
- Move it back and forth before moving on to the next tooth.
- Use a new, clean part of the floss for every tooth.
Water Flossers Vs. Flossing
As long as you do it properly, you really can’t go wrong with a regular piece of dental floss. But if a Waterpik is more your speed, that’s more than OK. “Flossing requires significantly more manual dexterity and if you just aren't able to do it, then by all means please use the water flosser,” Chen says.
You might also enjoy a Waterpik more, and there’s something to be said for that. “It makes the teeth feel fresh and clean,” Robinson says, which can be super satisfying and up the chances you use it again the next day. And when it comes to flossing, that’s a huge win.
Abdellatif, H. 2021. Comparison between water flosser and regular floss in the efficacy of plaque removal in patients after single use. The Saudi dental journal. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sdentj.2021.03.005.
Londero, AB. 2022. Efficacy of dental floss in the management of gingival health: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Clin Oral Investig. doi: 10.1007/s00784-022-04495-w.
Mazhari, F. (2018). The effect of toothbrushing and flossing sequence on interdental plaque reduction and fluoride retention: A randomized controlled clinical trial. J Periodontol. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29741239/
Ng, E. 2019. An Overview of Different Interdental Cleaning Aids and Their Effectiveness. Dentistry journal. https://doi.org/10.3390/dj7020056.
Dr. David Chen, DDS, dentist
Dr. Brad Eckhardt, DDS, dentist
Elizabeth Cranford Robinson, DMD, dentist