Are Waterpiks a substitute for flossing?

Waterpiks do a great job of flushing food and debris out from between teeth, under braces and arch wires, and especially under and around fixed (non-removable) bridges.  They are also helpful in washing away accumulated bacterial toxins in hard to get and chronically under-cleaned areas around restorative dentistry , tight spaces between teeth, or shallower periodontal (gum) pockets.  Unfortunately, they DO NOT remove plaque (bacterial colonies) like floss does because effective flossing literally “wipes” the sticky plaque off teeth and Waterpiks can only “rinse” these areas.  However, combining both flossing and Waterpiks can achieve great results!   Folks with dexterity problems or people who will just never floss will greatly benefit from Waterpik use and it is definitely better than doing nothing to clean in between your teeth.  If you are not a flosser and are unwilling to put forth the effort to floss daily, then Waterpik use is a hugely beneficial alternative to just brushing, which does not clean in between your teeth where most dental disease occurs.  And if you have fixed bridges you will find that regular Waterpik use will make your breath smell fresher, your food taste better, your mouth feel cleaner, and your bridgework last longer!

I suggest a Waterpik brand waterpik, and there is no need to buy one with all the “bells and whistles”.  Shop around for the best price, but get a Waterpik brand, such as the WP 60.  Use warm to hot water, and begin use on a lower power setting.  You can gradually turn it up as your gums get healthier.  The water stream should be directed straight in between each pair of  teeth starting with your back teeth and working your way around.  Don’t forget to do the insides, too!   Do not direct the stream “down into” your lower gums or “up into” your upper gums.  Pause for 3-4 seconds in between each tooth (think: like squirting a hose straight in between fence posts, but not at the posts).  It is helpful to lean over your bathroom sink (looking downward at the drain), leave your mouth partly open as you waterpic so the water can just drop out and rely on “feel” to direct the water properly. Take your time, go slow and do all the upper teeth spaces from outside to inside, all the lower teeth spaces from outside to inside, then repeat on your upper and lower teeth from inside to outside.   You will be amazed at what comes out of your mouth along with the water from in between your teeth as well as how great your mouth feels afterwards!

Ideally, you are flossing at least once per day also.  If you are a flosser, I suggest you floss first to loosen and dislodge plaque, then Waterpik to flush it out, then toothbrush with a fluoride toothpaste to clean all accessible areas and to apply fluoride topically.  Careful flossing, Waterpik use, and brushing should take you about 5 minutes and is best done at night when you are least rushed and will get maximum benefit from cleaning your mouth of food debris and bacteria before bed.

If you have a partner, they will thank you, if you have lots of restorative dentistry you will make it last and last saving you hassle, discomfort and money, and if you have minimal dentistry it will keep you disease free.  It is a gift you give to yourself and something that you can selfishly do for just you that will have a profound impact on your dental health, your general health, your life expectancy, and your quality of life.  The key is simply willingness.  If you have any questions on flossing, brushing, or Waterpic use please feel free to ask me or my staff.  These are learned skills that respond well to coaching, and we are always here to help you in any way we can!

Until next time,

Mark W Langberg, DDS, FAGD


  1. says

    Dear Billy:

    Of course, yes!   There is absolutely no problem with using a Waterpik on properly bonded porcelain veneers. In fact, keeping your gums healthy around veneers or any dental restorations are the best way to insure there longevity and cosmetics!

    Hope this helps!

    Mark W Langberg, DDS, FAGD

  2. warren dillon says

    Hi as i understand it you still need to floss if you purchase a waterpik. I thought a waterpik can substitute for flossing. My teeth do bleed a little when i floss. Waterpik, flossing or both. thank you warren

  3. says

    Dear Warren,

    Flossing, when done PROPERLY, is more effective at removing the sticky bacterial plaque from your teeth than a waterpik. However, many people have ineffective flossing technique, are physically unable to manipulate floss effectively, or are simply unwilling or unable to floss daily. For those folks, using a waterpik in combination with brushing is definitely better than brushing alone. Sometimes there are situations where a waterpik is particularly suited, such as under fixed bridges or between crowns that are attached together or “splinted”. However, my first choice for my patients is to floss, followed by waterpik, then brush. If you CAN floss, then do so. A waterpik is not a substitute for you.
    By the way, healthy gums will NOT bleed. If you are consistently getting bleeding when using floss or a waterpik you need to tell your dentist or hygienist. While you are there, be sure to demonstrate your flossing technique to your hygienist so she can “coach” you. If you are like most people, it will take multiple coaching sessions and daily practice. An absence of blood will be your “barometer” of gum health!

    Hope this helps!

    Mark W Langberg, DDS

  4. Todd Turbett says

    This is a great article. Thanks. I was searching for information on how to “clean” out my Waterpik because it takes a long time to prime. Maybe some sort of a solution that would break down build up inside the tubes in the pumps. Do you know of anything?

    Back to your article. You said enough to get me back to flossing. Since getting my Waterpik years ago I slacked off on the flossing, thinking the water jet was enough. Thanks for writing up this reminder.

    Todd Turbett

  5. says

    Thanks, Todd!
    I’m not sure if the company recommends this technique, but I suspect that the same method used to clean out calcification from coffee makers will work for waterpiks. I would try to run plain white vinegar through the waterpiks a few times, and perhaps even let the vinegar just sit in the tubing for a while before rinsing seltzer or carbonated water through the unit. The acidity of the vinegar should soften the mineral deposits and the seltzer/carbonated water should rinse it away. You may want to run warm water through the unit a few times to rinse out the taste of the vinegar afterward. Let me know how this works. The vinegar should not be corrosive to the waterpiks. If all fails, I recommend replacing it with model WP-65 for $44.99 @ Bed, Bath and Beyond.
    Mark W Langberg DDS FAGD

  6. Ben says

    Thanks for the heads up on the two, I have braces so I’m going with the Ultra WaterPik due to the Orthodontic accessory that comes with it along with everything else I seriously haven’t got the time to floss every day maybe more like twice a week and brush 2 – 3 times a day and use mouthwash twice a day (takes too long getting the floss passes the band again and again) so the WaterPik is a good option for me, plus the Ultra WaterPik is only $30 AU more than the Portable one so may as well get the more expensive one thanks again for the Article : )

  7. Shane says

    Any thoughts on also using the waterpik with like listerine in addition to water? I have gum pockets that are deepening, and I wonder if getting anti-bacterial listerine in between my teeth (and up in the pockets) would be beneficial (and I know you say to point the waterpik straight on, not “up in” or “down in”. But it still seems like the listerine could get up into the gums and maybe help).

  8. says

    Dear Shane,
    I have personally not read any studies that document or prove that use of listerine in a waterpik is more beneficial than use of the waterpik alone, but it certainly makes sense to me and I would encourage you to try it. I have occasionally recommended this exact protocol to patients. Understand that the use of the waterpik is complementary and in addition to other treatments, such as thorough scaling and root planing by your hygienist, frequent and routine hygiene visits, good nutrition and other lifestyle choices that support immune function, use of antimicrobials and sometimes surgery by a periodontist. I say go with it and try adding some listerine to warm to hot water in your waterpik and good luck!
    Mark W Langberg, DDS, FAGD

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