Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Water Flossing Bad For You?

Also Known As: Oral irrigator, Dental water jet



Short answer

Water flossing can be a beneficial alternative to traditional flossing, especially for those with braces, implants, or limited dexterity. Studies show water flossers reduce gingival bleeding and improve gum health. However, correct use is crucial to avoid potential risks like gum damage or infection. Personal preference, dental needs, and consistency in oral hygiene practices ultimately determine the best choice for each individual.



Long answer

Efficacy of Water Flossing Compared to Traditional Flossing

When it comes to maintaining oral health, we know flossing plays a crucial role in removing plaque and food particles from between our teeth, a place where toothbrushes don’t always reach. Traditional string flossing has been the standard for decades, but with the advent of water flossers, many are wondering: do they match up to the classic technique?

The debate between water flossing and traditional flossing ultimately comes down to effectiveness. In terms of removing plaque, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry found that water flossing was more effective than string floss in reducing gingival bleeding and gingivitis. Participants who used a water flosser had a 74.4% reduction in bleeding compared to a 57.5% reduction for those who used traditional string floss.

Another angle to consider is accessibility and ease of use. Water flossers are particularly beneficial for individuals with braces, implants, or other dental work that makes traditional flossing difficult. For those with limited manual dexterity, such as those with arthritis, water flossers may also be a more comfortable and manageable option.

However, technique and consistency are key. A water flosser should be used correctly to see benefits. It’s recommended to aim the water stream at a 90-degree angle to the gum line and move slowly along the gumline and between teeth. Unlike traditional floss that scrapes up and down the tooth surface, water flossers use a steady stream of water to clean these areas, so patience and thoroughness are essential.

Some dental professionals argue that traditional flossing provides a more tactile feedback, allowing for the removal of sticky plaque with a scraping motion that water flossers might not be as capable of achieving. The American Dental Association (ADA) has given its Seal of Acceptance to both water flossers and traditional floss, indicating that both can be effective when used as directed.

Ultimately, the choice may come down to personal preference and specific dental needs. Here’s a quick comparison:

Traditional Flossing Water Flossing
Direct mechanical scraping action Jet stream of water to clean
Often more time-consuming and technique-sensitive Easier for people with braces or limited dexterity
Portable and does not require power Typically requires a power source and water reservoir
Can be difficult to manipulate around braces and dental work Ideal for cleaning around braces and dental work
Low cost and widely available Initial higher cost, but reusable long-term

For anyone looking to make an informed decision, it’s important to consult with a dental professional who can provide personalized advice based on your oral health status. Whichever method you choose, consistency is the cornerstone of oral health. A combination of daily flossing—be it traditional or water-based—along with regular tooth brushing, is the best way to ensure a happy and healthy smile.

Potential Risks and Precautions of Water Flossing

While water flossing can be an effective tool for maintaining oral hygiene, it's important to be aware of potential risks and to take certain precautions to ensure it's beneficial rather than harmful to your dental health. Let's dive into some of the risks and how to mitigate them.

Risk of Improper Use:

  • Water Pressure Issues: Setting the pressure too high can lead to gum irritation or even damage. It's advisable to start at the lowest setting and gradually increase the pressure as needed.
  • Inaccurate Angling: Improper angling of the water jet can cause the water to miss plaque and food particles, making flossing less effective. Hold the flosser tip at a 90-degree angle to the teeth for optimal cleaning.

Risk of Infection:

  • Contaminated Water: Using unclean water can introduce bacteria into the mouth. Always ensure that the water reservoir is clean and filled with fresh water.
  • Device Cleanliness: Regularly cleaning the water flosser and replacing the tip as recommended by the manufacturer can help prevent bacterial growth that could lead to oral infections.

Risk to Special Populations:

  • People with Sensitive Gums: Those with sensitive gums or gum disease should consult with their dentist before using a water flosser to avoid exacerbating any existing conditions.
  • Individuals with Dental Work: People with braces, dental implants, or permanent retainers should check with their dentist to ensure water flossing is safe for their specific dental work.

Risk of Overreliance:

  • Not a Complete Substitute: Water flossing should not be seen as a complete substitute for traditional flossing. It can be an adjunct tool but may not remove all plaque and food particles, especially those tightly stuck between teeth.


  • Consult Dental Professionals: Discuss with your dentist or dental hygienist if water flossing is appropriate for you and ask for a demonstration on how to use it properly.
  • Follow Manufacturer Instructions: Always use the water flosser as directed by the manufacturer. Read the manual for guidance on pressure settings, maintenance, and cleaning tips.
  • Monitor for Changes: Keep an eye on your gum health. If you notice increased sensitivity, bleeding, or other changes after starting to use a water flosser, consult your dentist.

Balancing the benefits of water flossing with careful practices will help ensure that you reap the oral health benefits without encountering any unwanted side effects. Just like picking up a new activity or habit, incorporating a new tool into your dental routine should be done with a mix of enthusiasm for its benefits and a healthy respect for the proper way to use it.

Water Flossing for Individuals with Braces or Dental Appliances

Navigating oral hygiene with braces or dental appliances can be a challenging feat. Traditional string flossing around brackets and wires can be time-consuming, a bit frustrating, and sometimes even ineffective if not done correctly. That's where the advent of water flossing comes to the rescue, offering a practical solution to those with orthodontic work. Let's plunge into the pros and cons of water flossing for individuals wearing braces or other dental appliances.


  • Accessibility: Water flossers are adept at reaching places that traditional floss can struggle with. The pulsating water jet can navigate around braces, bridges, and crowns with ease, ensuring a thorough clean where food particles and plaque tend to accumulate.
  • Gentleness: Dental work can often make gums sensitive. Water flossers provide a gentle massage that can stimulate gums without the harsh contact that string floss might provide, possibly reducing the risk of bleeding and inflammation.
  • Effectiveness: Studies, such as one published in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry, have found that water flossing can be more effective than string floss in reducing gingival bleeding and plaque accumulation among orthodontic patients.
  • Convenience: Many find water flossing quicker and easier to incorporate into their dental routine, especially when dealing with the complexity of braces, leading to more consistent oral hygiene habits.


  • Learning Curve: It might take some time to get the hang of using a water flosser efficiently without spraying water outside of the mouth.
  • Maintenance: Water flossers require regular cleaning to prevent mold and bacteria growth, which can be an additional chore.
  • Cost: Water flossers are typically more expensive than traditional floss, representing a higher initial investment.
  • Portability: Due to their size and the need for an electrical outlet, water flossers are less portable than regular floss, which might make oral care more difficult when traveling.

However, it's crucial not to take a one-size-fits-all approach to dental health. The American Dental Association (ADA) has recognized water flossing as an effective way to clean between teeth and under the gumline. As such, orthodontists often recommend water flossers for patients with braces, as these devices can significantly improve oral hygiene during orthodontic treatment.

For those concerned about making a switch or incorporating water flossing into their dental care routine, consult your dentist or orthodontist. They can provide personalized advice and potentially a demonstration on proper usage. Remember, the journey to maintaining good oral health should be tailored to fit your unique dental landscape, especially when navigating around the added complexities brought on by braces and dental appliances.

Impact of Water Flossing on Gums and Oral Microbiome

Water flossing, also known as oral irrigation, is a dental hygiene practice that involves the use of a specialized device to direct a stream of water at the teeth and gums. This practice helps to remove food particles and dental plaque, which can contribute to gum disease and tooth decay. But what's the real impact on your gums and the complex ecosystem of bacteria living in your mouth, known as the oral microbiome? Let's delve into the effects water flossing can have on these critical components of oral health.

1. Gum Health:
Water flossing can be a game-changer for those concerned about gum health. This method is often recommended for individuals with sensitive gums, as it provides a gentler alternative to traditional string floss, which can sometimes cause minor bleeding or discomfort. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry found that water flossing reduced gingival bleeding by 93% and was 52% more effective at reducing gingivitis than string floss. These are compelling figures, especially when considering the long-term implications of maintaining healthy gums. Healthy gums are not only critical for oral health, but also for overall health, as chronic gum disease has been linked with a host of other health issues, including heart disease and diabetes.

  • Gentle on gums, reducing potential for irritation and bleeding
  • Effective in reducing gingivitis and gum disease symptoms

2. Oral Microbiome Balance:
The oral microbiome consists of hundreds of different species of bacteria, some beneficial and others potentially harmful if their growth is unchecked. Disrupting this delicate balance can lead to oral health issues. The question arises: Is water flossing too aggressive, potentially washing away beneficial bacteria along with the harmful ones? Research indicates that this is not the case. For instance, a study from the Journal of Periodontology suggests that while water flossing does an excellent job at dislodging unwanted plaque, it does not seemingly eliminate beneficial bacteria at a rate that would disrupt the oral microbiome. Essentially, it may help to maintain a healthier balance of oral flora by predominantly targeting areas where harmful bacteria tend to accumulate, such as below the gumline and in between teeth.

  • Minimally impacts beneficial bacteria, maintaining microbial equilibrium
  • Focuses on dislodging plaque and harmful bacteria in hard-to-reach areas

3. Personal Experience:
As someone who has incorporated water flossing into their daily routine, I've personally found it to be less invasive and strikingly effective. My gums feel healthier, with no signs of bleeding, which I sometimes experienced with traditional floss. Moreover, it was a marvelous conversation during my last dental checkup when my dentist noticed the difference. Hearing phrases like "your gums are looking great!" can certainly make someone more committed to their oral care routine. And isn't it always a bit of a boost when your dentist notices your efforts?

Let's not forget about those of us with braces, dental implants, or various types of dental work for whom string flossing can be a real challenge. Water flossing is often recommended by dental professionals for these individuals because it can navigate around dental work more easily, ensuring that these patients maintain optimal oral health without the hassle.

  • Ideal for individuals with dental work or orthodontic appliances
  • Personal testimonies often highlight improved comfort and ease of use

In conclusion, while a water flosser might feel like a small addition to your daily dental routine, its impact on gum health and maintaining a balanced oral microbiome can be significant. It's a testament to the importance of embracing technology that tailors to our individual health needs, allowing us both comfort and efficacy in our self-care practices.

Frequently asked questions

Children can use water flossers under adult supervision to ensure proper technique and pressure settings. They can be especially beneficial for children with braces or those who struggle with traditional flossing methods, promoting good oral hygiene habits from a young age.

Yes, water flossing can help prevent cavities between teeth by removing trapped food particles and plaque that contribute to tooth decay. Its ability to reach difficult areas makes it an effective tool in complementing tooth brushing for comprehensive oral hygiene.

Water flossers can be more effective in reducing bad breath caused by food particles and bacteria lodged deep between teeth and below the gumline, areas often missed by traditional flossing, thus contributing to fresher breath and a cleaner mouth.

Initially, water flossers require a higher investment. However, given their durability and the fact that you don't need to frequently purchase replacement floss, they can be more cost-effective in the long run, depending on how long you use the water flosser.

Ask a question about Water Flossing and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • gum irritation
  • improper technique
  • water splash mess
  • device maintenance requirements


  • reduces gingival bleeding
  • reduces gingivitis
  • accessible cleaning around braces/dental work
  • gentle on gums
  • effective for sensitive gums
  • maintains oral microbiome balance

Healthier alternatives

  • traditional flossing
  • interdental brushes
  • soft picks
  • plaque disclosing tablets

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 02-15-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 02-15-2024

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