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Water Flosser vs Flossing: Can a Waterpik Replace Dental Floss?

Natalie Asmussen
Natalie Asmussen
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Are you trying to decide between a water flosser vs flossing? Water flossers are handy oral hygiene tools that deliver small streams of pulsating water to clean along your gum line and in between teeth.

Flossing is the traditional way of cleaning between teeth, by using standard dental floss — although floss has come a long way since you were using it as a child. Now you can get all types of wax flosses and tapes that make it easier to floss, and that don't get stuck annoyingly between your teeth.

Most dentists will say that water flossers are awesome for gum health and relieving bleeding gums, but that ultimately, they shouldn't be used to replace flossing — rather they should be used as an additional tool to add to your oral hygiene routine.

In this article we'll cover the following information:

  • Water flosser vs flossing
  • Are Waterpiks effective?
  • Does Waterpik replace flossing?

We hope this information helps you make the best decision for your oral health.

Traditional flossing

water floss vs thread floss
Is traditional flossing still the best way to clean between teeth?

Flossing is the typical household way to clean between teeth. It consists of a string, waxed or unwaxed, or a flat tape that you insert between the teeth and use to clean along the gumline. The floss scrapes away plaque and disrupts the formation of bad bacteria that can eventually lead to decay.

Water flossing

Water flossers are handheld devices that spurt tiny streams of water in steady pulses. You aim the stream of water along your gumline and between your teeth and it removes plaque and bacteria.

Water flossers are gaining in popularity as both a replacement and supplement to traditional floss — in fact, approximately 13% of Americans use a water flosser as part of their oral hygiene routine.

Water flossing and Waterpiks

Throughout the article, we'll be using the terms ‘water flossers' and ‘Waterpik' interchangeably to refer to the same thing. But you should know that a Waterpik is a type, a brand actually, of water flosser. Waterpiks are the most popular brand available on the market and come in a wide range of styles and prices.

Are water flossers effective?

Water flossers can be very effective in removing plaque and disrupting the bacteria that gets between teeth and beneath gums, eventually leading to decay and gum disease. They are also gentler on teeth and gums, and as a result, many people are more motivated to keep up a consistent water flossing routine, when they don't with regular floss.

And as to their effectiveness, some studies, like this one, showed water flossers to be 29% more effective than string floss in the overall removal of plaque. Once in a while you can add hydrogen peroxide to your water flosser (only after consulting with your dentist, and always with a very diluted amount of HP) to enhance the cleaning effect.

You may be wondering can a Waterpik damage gums. Just like regular floss, if used inappropriately, it could potentially cause harm, but when used following proper protocol, water flossers are very helpful additions to oral hygiene routines.

Water flosser vs floss

Both water flossers and traditional string floss are highly effective in removing plaque and bacteria from teeth and gums. So is one better than the other? Are they exactly the same in their cleaning ability? Unfortunately, answers are a bit nuanced and vary even among the experts.

waterpik instead of flossing
There's just no replacement!

Is a Waterpik better than flossing?

According to the Mayo Clinic, traditional dental floss is the most effective tool we have for cleaning between teeth. And while Waterpiks also remove food particles and can reduce gum disease, it isn't to be thought of as a replacement for traditional flossing.

The article from the Mayo then goes on to say that if you don't like to use traditional floss because it gets stuck in your teeth and leaves little annoying fibers behind, then you should consider switching to a waxed floss, or even a floss holder, which consists of a forked handle with a bit of floss strung between.

Can a Waterpik replace floss?

If you're considering using a Waterpik instead of flossing, you may want to instead consider using a Waterpik along with flossing — as a supplement to your oral hygiene routine.

There are a couple of situations where a Waterpik could be used to replace dental floss:

  • When you have braces: If you have braces, and extra wires and chains that make it virtually impossible to get that bit of floss between your teeth, you could maybe get permission from your dentist to replace flossing with water flossing while you have braces. The gentle pulse of water may also help massage sore gums resulting from the movement of your teeth. Find out more about the best Waterpik for braces.
  • When you refuse to floss: If there's just absolutely no-way-Jose that you're going to floss, then yes, try water flossing — but you didn't hear it from us!

The bottom line here is that while it's not 100% decided whether a water flosser can replace flossing, and indeed, many dentists would say it shouldn't, water flossing is better than not flossing at all.

And if you aren't able to floss with regular floss, or you know yourself by now and you know you just won't stick to it, then try water flossing instead.

Hydro Floss vs Waterpik

The Hydro Floss is another brand of water flosser that uses magnetics that apparently interfere with the ability of bacteria to stick to the surface of gums and teeth.

On the Hydro Floss website, they claim that it is 2x more effective than other irrigators, but who knows? In general, it's probably another effective way to clean between teeth that could supplement your oral hygiene routine.

Waterpik vs floss: What the professionals are saying

waterpik or floss
Water floss vs regular floss

Finally, let's have a look at what the professionals are saying about the Waterpik vs flossing debate.

In the video below, Dental Hygienist Whitney, AKA Teeth Talk Girl, says that Waterpiks are meant to help prevent gum disease and keep gums healthy. She says that it's not supposed to replace flossing, but should be used with flossing.

She also says that some people, however, may benefit more from using a water flosser than they would traditional floss. These cases include if you have:

  • Inflamed gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Had a deep cleaning
  • Periodontal pockets
  • Braces with wires and brackets
  • A permanent retainer
  • An implant, bridge, or another dental prosthesis
  • Diabetes (People with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease)

All in all, she says that water flossers are best when used to reduce bleeding gums and that Waterpiks are actually better than string floss when it comes to taking care of bleeding gums. But, they should be used in conjunction with regular flossing. Have a look at her full review below:

In the next video, Dr. Lisa gives her advice on the issue.

She says that water flossers are helpful in removing plaque and can help prevent gingivitis. She says that flossing is key in maintaining optimal tooth gum and bone health. And if you have cavities between your teeth, you must floss.

If you need to address plaque and bleeding gums, then a water flosser can be very effective. She says that if you are flossing, but you don't see any improvement in your gum health, then you should also use a water flosser.

But she says that if you had to choose between flossing or a water flosser, floss. And if you aren't seeing the results you need, then try water flossing.

Watch her full video below:


The main conclusion that we can draw from the research on the subject and what dentists and hygienists have to say, is that traditional flossing is the main tool you should be using to clean between teeth.

But, a water flosser can supplement your oral hygiene routine, especially if you struggle with bleeding gums.

And of course, if you can't floss, because you have braces, or you refuse to floss, then water flossing is certainly better than no flossing at all.

You can get started finding your water flosser by checking out our guide to the best cordless water flossers on the market here.


What is better, flossing or Waterpik?

In general, dentists will tell you that if you have to choose between one or the other, then you should choose flossing. But there are some cases when water flossing may be better. These include if you have braces and flossing with normal floss is too difficult and if you don't have any cavities, but you are really struggling to improve your gum health.

Is Waterpik better than string flossing?

A Waterpik is a brand of water flosser and is not necessarily better than string flossing. It can be more helpful in treating bleeding gums and gum disease, or if you have braces. However, in general, string flossing is considered the best way to clean between teeth.

Water Flosser vs Flossing: Can a Waterpik Replace Dental Floss?
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