Good oral hygiene is important to prevent cavities and gum disease that can lead to tooth loss. The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothbrush and cleaning between your teeth daily to remove bacteria and food particles that a toothbrush can't reach. Waterpicks and floos have their pros and cons, according to Chicago dentist and ADA spokesperson Mary Hayes.
The ADA describes dental floss as a flexible strand of nylon or plastic filaments that mechanically removes food trapped between teeth and the film of bacteria that forms there before it has a chance to harden into plaque. A WaterPik, also known as an oral irrigator or dental water jet, is a device that aims a stream of water at your teeth to remove food particles, according to MayoClinic.com. The true WaterPik is a registered trademark invented in 1962 by Water Pik, Inc., according to the company's web site, but Waterpik has become a generic term for any device that shoots water into the teeth to clean them, Hayes says. As of 2010, a package of dental floss costs less than $3, compared with around $50 for a Waterpik.
Pros & Cons: Floss
Dental floss is an inexpensive way to help keep your teeth and gums healthy. MayoClinic.com indicates that floss is effective for cleaning tight spaces between teeth and will also scrape up and down the sides of each tooth. This is important because if plaque is not removed it can become tarter, a risk factor for the early stage of gum disease called gingivitis, according to the ADA.
On the other hand, the mechanical nature of floss can be abrasive. "Flossing can be irritating for people who have sensitive gums and may actually cause bleeding in some people," Hayes notes. Also floss can't be used by people who wear braces because it won't penetrate the wires in order to reach the gums, Hayes adds.
Pros And Cons: Waterpik
One benefit of a Waterpik is that it's gentle on the gums and is less likely to cause bleeding in people with sensitive gums, according to Hayes. A Waterpic is also ideal for people who wear braces – water will get behind the metal wires and flush out food particles. A Waterpik is 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. "Floss can't reach these pockets," Hayes says. The downside: A Waterpik doesn't remove plaque from teeth as well as floss. "Flossing scrapes off the sticky film of bacteria, while a Waterpic just rinses it," Hayes explains. MayoClinic.com says using a Waterpik isn't a substitute for flossing.
How to Use
To use dental floss, hold the strand tightly between your thumb and forefinger and gently insert between teeth. The ADA recommends curving the floss into a "C" shape when it reaches the gum line and then rubbing the side of the tooth in up and down motions. Be sure to floss all the teeth, including the back ones. To use a Waterpik, Hayes suggests starting with the lowest setting using warm water – you can turn it up as your master the technique. Aim the water between your teeth. It's best to start with the back teeth and work your way forward, according to Hayes.
The ADA warns against using floss more than once. Used floss might fray, lose its effectiveness or redeposit bacteria in your mouth. It's not necessary to buy an expensive Waterpik with all the bells and whistles. Hayes suggests buying the basic model. Shop around for the best deal. If you have gum disease or want to be extra diligent about oral hygiene, consider using both floss and a Waterpik. In that case, Hayes suggests flossing first to loosen plaque, then Waterpik to flush it away, and follow-up with brushing, using fluoride toothpaste.
- Mary Hayes, D.D.S., dentist in Chicago, spokesperson for the American Dental Association
- MayoClinic.com: Dental floss vs. Waterpik: Which is better?
- Waterpik.com: Why Waterpik Oral Care?
- American Dental Association: Cleaning Your Teeth & Gums
- American Dental Association: Floss & Other Interdental Cleaners
- The New York Times: Gingivitis