To Floss Or Not to Floss: Traditional Flossing vs. Water Flossing

Bonnie Lott Author: Bonnie Lott, RDH

Over the past several years, changes in marketing by leading companies have began to mislead many to think that “water flossers” are the answer to their prayers, and traditional flossing is no longer necessary. Now let me start by saying, that as a hygienist, I’m a fan of anything that helps my patients achieve better oral health. If you like it and are willing to use it, go for it! But… please realize the differences and then determine what will work best for YOU.

The idea of cleaning between the teeth has been around for as long as teeth! History shows early use of things such as horse hair and twigs to clean between teeth. Traditional floss filament was first introduced in New Orleans by Dr. Levi Parmly in 1815 and was made from silk thread. Since then, floss has had several upgrades, evolving to nylon at the height of World War II when silk was deemed too expensive. Today we have an array of tools available to us. Just cruise down the aisle of any store and WOW products galore! It can be overwhelming to know what to use. Don’t be afraid to try different things to see what works for you and don’t forget that your dental hygienist is a great source of knowledge. 

So, now back to the question… what should I use, traditional floss or a water flosser? The answer is simply BOTH! Let’s explore the difference just a little so you’ll understand my meaning.

The main idea behind flossing is to remove food debris or plaque (biofilm) which your toothbrush cannot reach. Did you know that brushing alone only reaches approximately 70% of teeth surfaces? That’s a whopping 30% of your tooth surface that you are missing if you skip flossing! (Imagine that’s like taking a shower with your shoes on! Yuck!) Over time, the bacteria you miss builds up and can irritate gum tissues and put you at risk for not only bad breath, decay, gum issues and potentially lead to bone loss if untreated. Simply put, flossing equals better health and easier dental visits.

Most of you are probably familiar with traditional floss, so what’s up with water flossing right? Water floss, or irrigation has been around since the early 1960s. It is a wonderful method to irrigate around complex dental work, braces, or just a nice gum massage. This is also a great alternative for patients that are unable to floss by traditional methods due to dexterity issues, etc. Water flossing is simply a jet spray of water that when angled properly along the gum line clears debris and irrigates.  Now, imagine you’re washing your car… do you get that water hose out, spray it down and call it clean? Nope, not yet! Grab that sponge and put some elbow grease in to get that ride all shiny! This is the same for your teeth. Brush, floss, and water floss. Water floss will irrigate and remove what your regular brushing and flossing might miss and if you are a patient with periodontal issues the water flosser is a wonderful irrigator, reaching up to 6mm below the gumline!

So there you go, it’s not an either or, but a combo punch to bacteria!