Cleaning between your teeth every day to remove bacteria and food particles that a toothbrush can’t reach is essential to maintaining good oral health and hygiene. Dental floss is recommended by dentists everywhere for its effectiveness and reliability, but many patients dislike the hassle and potential discomfort associated with threading floss through the tight spaces between their teeth. Some prefer to use an oral irrigator, commonly known as a waterpik, as an alternative to flossing. But is a waterpik really just as good as floss? There are pros and cons to each.


Dental floss is still the best and most affordable option for keeping your teeth and gums healthy. The flexible strand of filament not only clears out food particles from between the teeth, but also scrapes up and down the sides of each tooth, removing plaque and bacteria. This is an important action, because if plaque is not removed it can become tarter, a risk factor for gingivitis according to the ADA.


However, flossing can be irritating for people who have sensitive gums. Sometimes, it can cause bleeding. Floss also can’t be easily used by people who wear braces, because it won’t penetrate the wires in order to reach the gums.


An oral irrigator is much less abrasive, meaning that it’s less likely to cause irritation or bleeding, but it’s much less effective than floss at removing plaque and bacteria between teeth. WaterPik is actually a registered trademark, but the term “waterpik” has come to be used for oral irrigators of many different brands. These mechanical devices clean between teeth by shooting a thin, powerful jet of water between them. They are sometimes recommended for people who have active gum disease because it flushes out bacteria from deep pockets that form when gums pull away from the teeth. However, using a waterpik isn’t a great substitute for flossing. Flossing actually scrapes away the sticky film of bacteria between teeth that causes plaque. Oral irrigators simply rinse it.


Unless you suffer from gum disease or wear traditional braces on your teeth, flossing is the best option for maintaining strong, healthy teeth and gums. If you do have gum disease or want to be extra diligent about your oral hygiene, consider using both floss and a Waterpik.


But whatever you choose, don’t forget to brush!