Ask the Dentist – Floss vs. Waterpik

 

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It’s time to pour yourself that second cup of coffee or tea, sit back, relax, and indulge in this weeks Ask the Dentist from Family Dental Care Park Ridge.  Today’s question is one that I hear frequently in the office so, I’m grateful to Jen for sending it our way to be answered. Jen writes:

“I’m not always good about remembering to floss but I do use my Waterpik® just about every day.  Is that good enough? Is using the Waterpik® the same as using floss?”

Ah the old “can I stop flossing if I use my Waterpik®” controversy.

Here is my opinion Jen.  This is an opinion developed after 22 years of observing the results of regular Waterpik® users and regular flossers. If one were to choose just one type of interproximal device (that’s the fancy dental word for “in between the teeth” ) one should choose floss.  And here’s why.

If you use floss correctly, you are snapping it past the tight connection between your teeth and then (and this is key) you are moving the floss up and down pressing it against one of the two teeth first and then pressing it against the other of the two teeth next before snapping it out from between the two teeth.  That all important moving up and down along the side of the tooth and under the gumline is what makes floss so important.  That one simple maneuver removesplaque and bacteria from the side surfaces of the teeth that the toothbrush can not get at adequately.  It is why it is so important to floss at least once daily.  Yes, floss definitely helps remove spinach and food that gets stuck between teeth…but to a dentist, that is just a floss bonus.  What we really love about floss is how it reduces the plaque and bacteria from between the teeth, creating a healthier environment for the gums and the teeth.

Waterpiks® use a pulsating stream of water that produces between 5-90 psi of pressure  to remove food particles.  As an adjunct to brushing and flossing, a Waterpik® is a wonderful complement to your oral health routine.  When you use it instead of floss, however, you are no longer able to achieve the same results that moving floss tightly against the side surfaces of teeth and under the gum line provides.  Waterpiks® essentially force food products out from between the teeth but they do not, in my opinion, create enough friction against the smooth surface of the sides of the teeth to remove plaque adequately.  Also, people tend to think that if a moderate speed on the Waterpik® is good, a higher speed must be awesome and the risk there is that you can actually force food products or bacteria deeper into the soft tissue of the gum line and create irritation.  I usually encourage people that want to incorporate using a Waterpik® along with brushing and flossing to not use any setting higher than a medium setting to decrease the chance of irritating the soft tissue (gum). So, to wrap up, floss should always be used as part of your daily oral hygiene routine…nothing yet, in my opinion, replaces the effectiveness of floss.  That said, adding a Waterpik® to your routine of brushing and flossing is an excellent choice being always mindful of what speed you use with the Waterpik®.

Thanks again Jen.  If you would like your dental question answered, you can ask your questions below in the comments or email me at info@ParkRidgeDDS.com  We are trying to answer each of the questions that are landing in our inbox and we are loving how enthusiastic you are!

And remember, as always…we LOVE making you smile!

 

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9 comments
   impression trays
impression trays

Flossing is an important step to keeping teeth healthy. Dentists recommend flossing at least once a day. Flossing involves a choice of two devices: dental floss and Waterpiks. Both devices clean in and around the teeth. Each flossing method offers different techniques and advantages...So just use these and find there advantages...

kengwen
kengwen

@Julia I'd give the floss-sticks a try. I started using them because I wasn't flossing with regular floss - the floss wrapped around my fingers hurt them. I don't like that it's a much larger item going into the landfill, or that it costs more than regular floss. But, I floss pretty much every day now; before I flossed very rarely. I'm sure the extra cost in floss will be outweighed by reduced dental care costs, seems like  a pretty good trade-off.

Julia
Julia

I know this is an old post but I have a question.  My husband recently went in for a check up when he noticed something odd on one of his teeth and we found out he has a lot of issues, right down to severe perio disease.  We are working to recover his mouth currently (all four quadrants need scaling and planing among a lot of other work) and he's currently brushing several times a day and flossing.  There's a problem with the flossing though.  He's physically incapable of opening his mouth very wide  and the flossing ends up hurting his jaw from fatigue.  Our dentist recommended the little plastic things that's a toothpick on one end and a flosser on the other but that seems like a lot more money in the long run than just buying a waterpik or using regular floss.

I understand all the points you've made in this article but I wonder what you'd suggest for us?  In his situation, should the waterpik suffice with is jaw issues?

falconium
falconium

"Waterpiks® essentially force food products out from between the teeth but they do not, in my opinion, create enough friction against the smooth surface of the sides of the teeth to remove plaque adequately" - Why? Is it proven or subjective feeling described by patients?

 

Why do you think higher setting could damage or force food under the gum? You can do it with a floss as well, right?

 

I'm planning to buy this product since they say it removes 99.9% of particles, bacteria from the flossed place, but now you made me unsure... :(

Lori
Lori

Thanks Claudia! More valuable information! Thanks for the steps in flossing too and reasons for doing it daily!

Lori

ParkRidgeDDS
ParkRidgeDDS moderator

@Julia Hi Julia!  Thank you for commenting and for your question/concern!  I'm so sorry that your husband is going through some rough experiences with his oral health.  The good news is that he seems to be committed to maintaining stability in his mouth as much as possible.  When I talk about the differences between water piks and flossing, I am approaching it from a general population overview.  In your husband's situation, the important thing is for him to be able to adequately maintain as healthy an oral environment as possible.  Because of certain limitations in his situation, water pik should be a great solution.  You are very wise to have thought this all out and you seem to have a good handle on what will work best in this situation!  One last suggestion is that sometimes, if you are near a "dollar store", they have packs of those plastic flossers for a lot less money.  That said, the water pik is a very wonderful solution for your husband!!

Thanks again for commenting here!!

ParkRidgeDDS
ParkRidgeDDS moderator

Thanks for stopping by @falconium . I appreciate your thoughtful comment.  This post was a subjective opinion piece based on over twenty years of experience and was in no way intended to be statistical in nature.  I love Waterpiks and I have not only recommended them to patients, I have encouraged patients that are Waterpik fans to continue using them.  My feeling about the value of flossing in effectively removing plaque that adheres to the side surfaces of teeth remains strong.  I believe that using Waterpik as an adjunct to your brushing and flossing will definitely enhance your oral health.  As with anything, flossing and Waterpik is most effective when used properly.  The possibility is always there that, when done incorrectly, both flossing and Waterpik can irritate the soft tissue instead of improve it's health.  With proper use, I absolutely believe that brushing, flossing and Waterpik-ing can be a very powerful one-two-three punch that optimizes your oral health.  I hope this helps clarify my post for you! 

ParkRidgeDDS
ParkRidgeDDS moderator

 @Lori Good morning Lori!!  I apologize for responding to your kind comment so late...we are so immersed in getting ready for the Open House in two weeks that I need lists for my lists ;-)

Your kindness and support in following Ask the Dentist is so very much appreciated Lori.  I am glad that you are finding the information helpful and valuable! 

Claudia