String Floss or Water Flossing: Which is Better? Family & General Dentist in Vancouver, WA Weighs In
Water flossing vs. string floss: Which is better? Though some people swear by one or the other, the truth is that there are pros and cons to both, and studies about each method’s effectiveness at removing plaque are largely inconclusive. If you’ve been considering changing your flossing routine, it’s worth looking into the differences between them to see which one is right for you!
Evidence For String Floss vs. Water Flossers?
Studies about the efficacy of plaque removal with water flossing vs. using string (or tape) floss vary greatly. One small study found that in a single use, single-blind clinical trial, the WaterPik Water Flosser plus manual toothbrush were significantly more effective at removing plaque compared with using string floss plus a manual toothbrush. However, another study found that there was virtually no difference between the two, though their string floss group scored slightly higher in plaque reduction scores compared with the water flosser group. Yet another study found that though oral irrigators (another term for water flossers) could help in reducing gum inflammation, they resulted in minimal changes to plaque levels. A fourth study acknowledged that available evidence for the efficacy of oral irrigators is limited and inconsistent.
Oral-B does not recommend replacing string floss with water flossing, stating that “[w]hile water flossers do a great job of removing food particles and rinsing away plaque.., they cannot replicate the scraping motion of string floss that removes tartar-causing plaque that can eventually cause gum disease.” Oral-B also recommends using both traditional and water flossing in your daily oral hygiene routine for optimal results.
With all that said, which is the better choice for you? Let’s explore the pros and cons of each method below.
Pros & Cons of Water Flossing:
Great for people with arthritis and limited manual dexterity.
Can be more fun to use, which is helpful for getting into the regular habit of flossing.
Can be easier to access hard to reach areas in the mouth, or between crooked or tightly crowded teeth.
Can be more comfortable to use for people with sensitive gums.
Recommended for use with orthodontics (braces), or fixed bridges and retainers.
Not very travel-friendly or portable.
There is a learning curve - oral irrigators are not always quick to pick up and get used to, and most people need to experiment through trial and error to find their optimal water temperature and pressure levels.
Messier than string floss.
Initial cost is quite a bit pricer than string floss.
Evidence for the effectiveness of water flossers in reducing plaque levels in the mouth is inconclusive as of now, and it is generally recommended to use water flossers in addition to string floss, rather than as a replacement.
Pros & Cons of String Floss
Simple to use and control.
When used correctly and daily, string floss is proven effective at physically scraping and cleaning away plaque from in between teeth and below the gumline.
Some people find they need more than one type of floss. For example, people with crowded or crooked teeth might find that string or tape floss works well on most of their teeth, but need a floss brush or pick to get into hard to reach areas.
If used incorrectly or with too much pressure, string floss can sometimes cut into gums and cause them to bleed.
Nylon-based floss is not environmentally friendly – however, biodegradable floss is becoming more widely available.
May be difficult to use for people with braces, fixed dental bridges or retainers.
Difficult to use for people with limited manual dexterity.
So, is string floss or a water flosser better for you? Your choice will likely come down to your personal preferences, manual dexterity, gum sensitivity, and whether or not you have any fixed orthodontic work. But unless string floss is too difficult for you to control, or you have orthodontic work that makes regular flossing difficult, we recommend using good old string or tape floss! The physical scraping action of guiding the floss up and down between teeth has been proven to efficiently and effectively remove plaque between teeth and under the gum line. Evidence for the effectiveness of oral irrigators is still limited and inconsistent, though using a water flosser is better than using nothing, particularly when dexterity or orthodontic challenges make using regular floss too difficult.
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