Does anyone truly enjoy flossing their teeth? We can’t rule it out — but for most of us, flossing is something we do because we understand how very important it is to our oral hygiene. Yet there are some for whom flossing is a much greater challenge — for example, people with limited mobility, or those who are wearing braces. Is there any alternative to flossing that offers these people the same health benefits?
Perhaps — but before we discuss the options, let’s remember why flossing is so important. The number one enemy of your oral health is plaque: a sticky, bacteria-rich film that builds up on the surface of your teeth every day. Flossing is an effective means of removing plaque from the tiny spaces in between the teeth — the places a regular brush can’t reach. Left alone, plaque builds up into a hardened layer called tartar or calculus, which generally requires a professional cleaning with special dental tools to remove. Both plaque and tartar are the major causes of tooth decay and gum disease.
If you are unable to remove plaque via regular flossing, a tool called an oral irrigator may help. Sometimes called a “water flosser” or “pick,” this device is designed to squirt a pulsing jet of high-pressure water through a hand-held wand. Special tips may be also available for use with braces or dental implants.
Since these devices first became widely available in the 1960s, they have been the subject of many studies. The general conclusion from the research has been that water irrigators can be helpful in controlling plaque — particularly in people who would otherwise have trouble doing so. For example, a 2008 study showed that orthodontic patients who used an irrigator with a special tip after brushing normally were able to remove five times as much plaque as those who used brushing alone.
Oral irrigators aren’t just for use in the home. Many dental offices use similar devices for special treatments that can help control gum disease. Of course, in that case, the professional-grade tool is handled by a specially trained dental hygienist, dentist, or periodontist — and it’s part of a procedure that may also involve other manual or power instruments, plus special cleaning solutions.
So does it make sense to use an oral irrigator instead of flossing? For most people, flossing is probably the best way to ensure that you remove as much plaque as possible. But if for some reason you aren’t able to floss effectively, using an oral irrigator offers some well-documented benefits. Why not ask us the next time you come in? We can help you decide which method is right for you, and even demonstrate the most effective techniques for plaque removal.
If you would like more information about oral irrigators, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cleaning Between Your Teeth: How Water Flossing Can Help.”