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Why You Should Add a Water Flosser to Your Oral Health Routine

This tool is an add-on to your regular brushing and flossing habits, not a replacement for them

Person using water dental flosser in bathroom.

You know what’s a frustrating feeling? Having something stuck between your teeth. You chomp into that apple or take a bit of that salad and you can just feel it wedging itself between your teeth. Ugh.

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But what about all the stuff that gets stuck in your teeth that you can’t feel or see? If it’s not cleared away when you brush and floss, it hardens into dental plaque, a sticky film that can lead to all kinds of oral health concerns.

Your dental health plays a huge role in your overall health, and it can even impact your mental health. So, needless to say, it’s pretty important that keep your mouth clean. And a water flosser can be a great way to boost your oral hygiene habits — but it’s important to know what they can and can’t do.

Periodontist Sasha Ross, DMD, explains why you might want to invest in a water flosser, how to use it and why you’ll still need to keep using traditional floss.

What are water flossers and what do they do?

Water flossers, sometimes known as oral irrigators or dental water jets, are handheld tools that shoot a stream of water at your teeth and gums. This removes extra plaque and food particles that brushing and flossing have missed.

“A lot of times, when you use a water flosser, you’ll see chunks of food coming out, even after you’ve brushed and flossed,” Dr. Ross says.

Do water flossers work better than dental floss?

Record scratch, back it up! That’s the wrong question to ask. “Water flossers aren’t a substitute for string floss,” Dr. Ross states, “but they can be used in addition to it.”

That means that if you choose to use a water flosser, it shouldn’t be a replacement for traditional floss. Why? Because flossing with string can reach all surfaces of your teeth, including between the teeth and below your gum line, where water flossers can’t always get to.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends flossing with string at least once a day to help remove plaque and prevent gum disease and tooth decay. But you can think of a water flosser as a bonus for your mouth.

“The people who can benefit most from adding a water flosser to their routine are those who have dental implants, bridges in their teeth or a lot of gaps between their teeth,” Dr. Ross notes.

Benefits of water flossers

Adding a water flosser to your daily brushing and flossing habits can help keep things extra clean. “I’ve seen huge improvements in patients’ periodontal health after they start using water flossers,” Dr. Ross says.

She explains what these handy tools can do for your oral health:

  • Remove plaque and debris: The less gunk left in your mouth the better, right? Water flossers can remove the stuff that brushing and flossing miss, ultimately helping prevent gum disease and tooth decay.
  • Improve gum health: The pulsating water stream from a water flosser is effective, while also being kind to your gums. And if you have sensitive gums, it can actually help make them a little stronger. “Using a water flosser can help decrease the amount of bleeding and tighten the gum tissue,” Dr. Ross says.
  • Hit hard-to-reach spots: If you have bridges or other dental work, or if your teeth have gaps between them, using a water flosser can help you clean those otherwise tricky places.
  • Tackle bad breath: Removing plaque and debris from your mouth helps keep your breath smelling fresh. And some water flossers have built-in antimicrobial agents that help kill bacteria.

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How to use a water flosser

Using a water flosser is pretty easy, once you get the hang of it — but it can feel a little weird at first, and all that water can get a little messy. Dr. Ross explains:

  1. Prep your water flosser: First, fill the device with warm water (water from your bathroom sink is fine) and choose your desired pressure setting. “Choose the tip that best fits your needs,” Dr. Ross advises. “For instance, there is an orthodontic tip for patients who have braces.”
  2. Get to work: Place the nozzle in your mouth and aim the stream of water at the spaces between your teeth and along your gums. “You simply lean your head over the sink, turn it on and run the water along your gum line,” Dr. Ross explains. Make sure to hit every tooth with the water stream.
  3. Prevent messes: To keep the water from getting everywhere, be sure to stay over the sink with your mouth open. “Just let the water fall into the sink as you go,” he says.

It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using a water flosser, as incorrect use can cause gum irritation. And it’s also always a good idea to talk to a dental professional before you use a water flosser, especially if you have any dental health concerns.

A reminder about healthy gums

If your gums bleed when you floss, that’s actually a sign that you need to floss more often. “If you’ve never done it before or don’t do it often, that bleeding is because your gums are inflamed,” Dr. Ross says.

Bleeding is a sign of early periodontal disease, which is reversible with treatment — if you catch it in its early stages. See your dentist for a professional cleaning and to ask how you can best care for your mouth in order to heal your teeth and gums and keep periodontal disease from progressing.

To learn more on this topic from Dr. Ross, listen to the Health Essentials Podcast episode, “Keeping Your Mouth Healthy.” New episodes of the Health Essentials Podcast publish every Wednesday.

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