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Should you use a water flosser? Dentists explain the benefits

As the name suggests, water flossers use water to clean the gum line and between teeth.

You know the drill: Floss every day for better oral health. But some people get better results with a water flosser than with string dental floss. And, if you think there's a chance it might help you actually keep up this daily habit, you should give water flossing a shot, dentists say.

“A water flosser is a handheld device that sprays streams of water in pulses across the teeth and between the teeth,” Dr. Brittany?Seymour, spokesperson for the American Dental Association and associate professor at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, tells TODAY.com.

It uses water to "clean out the area around the gum line of the tooth,” adds Dr. Erin?Lobo-Marwah, group practice leader at the UCLA School of Dentistry,

That area, the gum sulcus, acts like the end of a sleeve around your tooth, Lobo-Marwah tells TODAY.com. If it gets filled with food, bacteria or plaque, that can irritate the gums. Down the line, that can progress to gum recession and diseases, like gingivitis or periodontitis, which also make cavities more likely to form.

Any solid brushing and flossing routine can help prevent those problems by removing food and plaque. But some people may find that using a water flosser rather than dental floss makes flossing easier to do correctly —?and regularly.

How to choose the right water flosser for you:

When you're choosing a water flosser, the first thing to look for is the ADA Seal of Acceptance, Seymour says. (You can see a list of ADA-accepted water flossers here, all of which are Waterpik brand flossers.)

The seal is "an objective assessment of products that the ADA conducts independently," she explains. If a product has the seal, the ADA has verified that it actually does what it claims to do and you can "feel confident in what you're purchasing," Seymour says.

From there, your choice will come down to preference.

Some might prefer the classic setup, which includes a countertop tank. But Lobo-Marwah often suggests her patients opt for handheld cordless water flossers because they can be used in the shower and, therefore, aren't as messy. "That way you can't complain about the water going everywhere," she says.

Seymour also uses a cordless model because she travels frequently. "I have two because I keep one in my travel bag and one in the bathroom," she says.

How to use a water flosser correctly:

When it comes to flossing, proper technique is crucial,?and the same is true for water flossing, the experts say. And, generally, you should follow the manufacturer's instructions for the best results — especially if it has the ADA Seal, Seymour says.

Once the water flosser is set up, you'll want to choose a tip, and you may have a lot to choose from depending on the device you purchased. Lobo-Marwah recommends starting with the standard tip and using a low level of water pressure.

Once you're comfortable with the feeling and you know what you're doing, you can slowly increase the pressure. But you likely don't need to go above the medium pressure settings, she says, because "you don't want to be too aggressive with it."

When you first get going, the flosser can "feel a little messy," Seymour says, "because it does continually provide a water pulse." You'll want to place the tip in your mouth and close your mouth most of the way but not entirely so that the water can drain out, she explains.

Start in the back of your mouth with the cheek side of your molars and let the water pulse as you move slowly along the gumline of the tooth, Lobo-Marwah recommends. "Spend an extra second as you come between the teeth and then continue forward," she says. You'll end up getting the front, back and between each tooth.

You can always ask your dentist for a demonstration if you're not sure whether you're using your water flosser properly.

Water flosser vs. dental floss:

First, know that both water flossing and dental floss can accomplish the same goal of keeping your teeth and gums clean. “Both are effective in removing food and plaque from between the teeth," Seymour says. But some people can really benefit from switching to a water flosser.

That includes people with dexterity challenges, Lobo-Marwah says, such as patients with coordination issues following a stroke and patients with arthritis in their hands.

"Anybody that's had any of these types of injuries where their hands are just not as coordinated for using the string floss, then I recommend using the water flosser," Lobo-Marwah explains. And Seymour agrees: "This is a great tool, primarily for people who have manual dexterity or other challenges that make traditional flossing difficult," she says.

Additionally, people with braces who can't floss in between their teeth as easily may find it useful to switch to a water flosser, Lobo-Marwah says.?Still, if you can use string floss, Lobo-Marwah recommends keeping it on hand to get in between your teeth at "the point of contact" more effectively.

For others, though, you can use whichever flossing device you prefer. If you simply don't enjoy traditional flossing or find it a tough habit to keep up, give water flossing a try, Seymour says. As she tells her patients, "Whatever you feel you will be able to commit to and use on a daily basis is the right tool for you."

Should you floss before or after brushing?

Lobo-Marwah recommends, generally, that people floss first.

But as long as you’re brushing and flossing regularly and thoroughly, Seymour says, the order doesn’t really matter. (The ADA agrees.)

"I can't tell the difference between those who floss first or brush first," Seymour says, "but I can tell the difference between patients who do both of those daily and those who do not."


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