Nothing is more flattering than a gorgeous, healthy smile, but taking care of your teeth and gums is about more than just good looks. Poor oral hygiene can cause cavities, tooth loss, and gum disease.

Gum disease can negatively affect heart health. The bacteria that causes gum disease can also get into the bloodstream and target the fetus, possibly leading to prematurity and low birth weight in babies.

Brushing your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste is a good start, but regular brushing may not be enough to clean out food particles, plaque, and bacteria from between teeth.

Toothbrush bristles aren’t small enough to clean effectively in these tight spaces. For this reason, interdental cleaning, such as flossing, is recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA).

You may be trying to decide which is better for cleaning in between teeth: dental floss or a Waterpik water flosser. Getting input from your dentist is always a good idea.

It also helps to understand the differences and similarities between the two so that you can decide which will provide the most benefit for you. It’s important to understand each tool and understand what they can and can’t do.

Waterpik water flossers are also referred to as dental water jets or oral irrigators. The first oral irrigator was invented in 1962 by a Colorado dentist who was helped by his patient, a hydraulic engineer.

Water flossers use a pressurized stream of pulsating water to clean away food particles, bacteria, and plaque between teeth and under the gumline.

Who should use a Waterpik?

You may prefer to use a Waterpik instead of floss if you:

  • wear braces
  • have nonremovable bridgework
  • have crowns
  • have dental implants

A Waterpik may also be easier to use than standard floss for people with arthritis, or for anyone who finds string floss difficult to maneuver and work with.

What are the benefits?

Pros

  • easy to use
  • gets in hard-to-reach areas
  • cleans between tightly spaced teeth

Using a Waterpik can be especially helpful for getting into hard-to-reach areas of the mouth, tightly spaced teeth, and periodontal pockets that may be caused by early gum disease. They can also help to keep breath fresher, longer, which is an added plus.

Waterpiks are easy to use. Some people may experience a learning curve while figuring out their most comfortable water temperature and power setting.

In order to be as effective as possible, new users should remember to place the tip in the mouth before turning on the unit and to go slowly, gliding the tip along the gumline gently.

For best results, it’s recommended to start with the back teeth and work toward the front teeth. Continue until you have cleaned the inside and outside of both the upper and lower teeth. This can help ensure that the entire mouth gets cleaned thoroughly.

What are the disadvantages?

Cons

  • may not remove all plaque
  • can be costly
  • messy

The rinsing action of Waterpiks may not be enough to remove plaque completely from the surface of teeth. Some people like to use string floss first, to scrape off and loosen plaque. A Waterpik can then be used to efficiently rinse out residue and plaque left behind.

Waterpiks are safe to use and contain no risk, except to the wallet, when compared to traditional string floss.

An oldie but a goody, dental floss use dates back as far as prehistoric times. It was first recommended in print by a dentist named Levi Spear Parmly, in his book, "A Practical Guide to the Management of the Teeth,” in 1819.

Floss was formally patented 55 years later by Asahel M. Shurtleff. He designed floss in packaging that included a cutter, similar to the way some floss is sold today.

The floss of the 1800s was usually made from unwaxed silk. It didn’t gain in popularity until after World War II, when silk was replaced with nylon.

Today, floss is available precut in plastic holders called dental picks, and as long strands you cut yourself. You can find floss in flavored varieties, and as waxed or unwaxed strands.

Who should use floss?

Everyone should floss. Flossing is an important part of dental hygiene to reduce the risk of gum disease and tooth decay.

What are the benefits?

Pros

  • easy to control
  • able to clean each tooth in full

It removes bacteria, plaque, and food particles from between teeth. Using floss also allows you to wipe each tooth clean of sticky plaque before it can turn into tarter.

The main benefit of using floss is control. Flossing manually allows you to meticulously wipe down each tooth, in an up and down motion, and to maneuver the floss between teeth.

What are the disadvantages?

Cons

  • unable to reach some areas
  • can cause your gums to bleed

Some people may not be able to reach certain areas of the mouth easily when relying only on floss. You may also have a hard time getting between teeth that are very close together. If you floss too far down below the gumline or too forcefully, your gums may bleed.

It’s important to rinse your mouth after you floss. This helps remove plaque and residue scraped free from teeth.

Should I floss before I brush or after?

The ADA says that either way is acceptable, as long as you do a thorough job. Some people argue that they like to floss first to loosen food and debris from between teeth, which can be brushed away after.

Others prefer to brush first to remove the bulk of plaque before flossing, and to allow the fluoride from toothpaste to reach areas that could be blocked by food.

A recent study published in the Journal of Periodontology showed that the amount of plaque between teeth was reduced more in the floss first, brush second technique.

However, the ADA and American Academy of Periodontology recommend brushing and flossing in any order to keep your smile healthy. Whether you floss or brush first is up to you!

The best dental hygiene method is typically one you’ll stick to, enjoy, and can see yourself using daily.

Many people prefer the control they get from manual flossing. Others rave about the fresh, deep-clean feeling they get after using a Waterpik. Research has shown that there’s minimal difference in plaque removal between using floss versus the Waterpik.

Both Waterpiks and flossing are good ways to take care of teeth and gums, in addition to brushing. The ADA recommends brushing twice a day and cleaning in between the teeth once a day. For the ultimate in clean and plaque removal, consider using both twice a day.

Be sure to speak with your dentist about any concerns you may have. They can also help you determine the best option for you.