Q: I have trouble flossing. Is using a Waterpik a reasonable alternative?
A: Perhaps, if you have severe arthritis or another dexterity problem that would prevent you from using dental floss. At the very least, it’s a good addition to your dental routine.
Technically called oral irrigators or dental water jets, these devices direct a stream of water to help remove debris and plaque from between teeth and along the gum line. The most popular brand is Waterpik, which calls its products water flossers.
Several studies (funded by and conducted by researchers at Waterpik) have been done on oral irrigators—all with positive results, not surprisingly. For example, in a 2011 study in the Journal of the International Academy of Periodontology, people with moderate gingivitis (gum inflammation) who used an oral irrigator in addition to regular brushing for four weeks had significantly less gum bleeding than those who brushed and used floss (though plaque was not reduced in either group).
Another Waterpik-affiliated study, in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry in 2012, found that an oral irrigator paired with an electric toothbrush for four weeks was better than using an electric toothbrush alone in reducing plaque, bleeding and gingivitis—and much better than a manual toothbrush alone. And an older study concluded that using an oral irrigator once daily in conjunction with a manual or electric toothbrush is “as effective as a traditional brushing and flossing routine, and in some cases may provide superior results for reducing bleeding and gingivitis.”
Still, oral irrigators are not a replacement for regular flossing, according to the American Dental Association, which advises flossing at least once daily, in addition to brushing twice daily. So your first step should be to find a way to make flossing easier, such as using a special floss holder or trying a different type of floss. You can also try other types of interdental cleaning aides, like wooden or plastic dental sticks or specially designed tiny brushes.