The Complete Guide to Water Flossers: Benefits, Types, and How to Use Them

People love the idea of being able to clean their teeth without having to use traditional string floss, which is why the popularity of water flossers has been on the rise for several years now. So let’s take a look at what your options are if you’re considering buying a water flosser.

For years, Waterpik was the only company selling water flossers but that has changed significantly. Name a company that manufactures and sells oral health tools and chances are they offer at least one type of water flosser to their customers. A short list of brands you might recognize includes Waterpik, Sonicare, Oral B, Quip, Burst, Conair, Moon, and Smile Direct Club. With so many brands offering water flossers, how do you know which one to choose? The answer might be less scientific than you would hope for, and here’s why. Every water flosser does essentially the same thing; shoots a steady or pulsating stream of water out of a narrow tip. So, the brand name on the machine doesn’t really matter at all. Which one would I personally buy? If the price point of different water flossers is relatively the same, I’m going to buy a Waterpik. They’ve been doing it the longest, so I trust that the design of their machine has been well-honed and will last longer than other flossers. There are two dominant kinds of water flossers to choose from: classic water flossers and portable water flossers.

The Classic Water Flosser

Even though I don’t think any one company can truthfully claim their water flosser is more effective than other flossers, it still bears mentioning the different types of flossers out there. The classic water flosser is a countertop machine that has a clear basin on top. This basin is removable and can be filled with water, mouthwash, or a mix of both. The unit often has dials and buttons that can increase or decrease the power of the water stream while also choosing between a steady or pulsating stream. There is also a coiled hose with a handle on the end and a narrow tip with a slight bend in it. These countertop units tend to last a long time because they don’t experience a lot of wear and tear.

Portable Water Flossers

A second type of water flosser that has increased in popularity over the last several years is the portable water flosser. Every company puts a unique shell on its own flosser, but again, the bones of the products are nearly identical from one brand to the next. On the bottom of the unit is a clear water basin. Above that is the main part of the handle which contains the motor and other inner workings of the flosser. This section also includes buttons to control the speed and characteristics of the water flow. Then, at the very top is a nozzle identical to the tip of the countertop unit. The interesting thing about these portable units is that, even though everything is contained in one piece, I would never describe it as a travel unit. They are big and bulky and relatively awkward to handle. The other thing I’ve noticed is that, depending on the settings, the water often runs out before you’ve finished flossing your entire mouth. Unfortunately, I don’t expect the handheld portable units to last as long as the countertop units because they naturally experience more wear and tear. You’re picking them up, setting them back down, possibly dropping them, etc. The only scenario in which I would recommend a portable unit would be if you’re a person who can’t live a week without your water flosser and is willing to dedicate a good little space in your luggage to bring it along with you.

How to Use It

Here are a few tips for effectively and conveniently using a water flosser. One of the main downsides to water flossers is that they can be extremely messy. It’s not possible to keep your mouth open and see what you’re doing (unless you want to wear a poncho and clean your mirror, countertop, and floor every time you floss). So, I recommend my patients lean over their sink and wrap their lips around the nozzle, leaving enough room for the water to drip out of their mouths into the sink as they work. Since you can’t really see what you’re doing, try to go by feel. You want to use the tip of the nozzle to trace your gumline (where the teeth and gums meet). Just move along making sure to feel the stream of water on the gums both on the cheek side and on the tongue side of each tooth. 


So, now that we’ve reviewed the different types of water flossers and how to use them, let’s talk about what they’re good for. When my patients ask me my opinion concerning the effectiveness of water flossers, I tell them the same thing. Water flossers are great for the health of your gums. The stimulation of a steady stream of water helps to increase the blood flow, which decreases inflammation, redness, and bleeding. Water flossers are also good at removing the bulk pieces of food trapped between your teeth. So, if you hate traditional floss and are drawn to a water flosser, you are likely to reap significant benefits from its use.


Where they fall short, in my opinion, is in the prevention of cavities between the teeth. The tenacious, sticky biofilm that nestles immediately below the point where two adjacent teeth touch can only be effectively accessed by momentarily separating the two teeth with string floss and scraping the biofilm away. While most hygienists recommend water flossers to their patients, if you were to ask every hygienist in America if they exclusively use a water flosser to prevent cavities, I would bet that 99% of them would say that they use string floss in addition to their water flosser. It’s the combination of gum stimulation and plaque disruption that keeps your gums and teeth truly healthy. 

We understand that there are a lot of reasons why people like water flossers and if you own one we’re just happy you’re flossing! If you haven’t bought one yet, might we suggest a different product? The Slate Electric Flosser is designed to stimulate the gums with sonic vibrations while removing plaque and debris. It's more effective than even the best water flosser at cleaning all areas of your mouth. So, if you’re not interested in wiping off your countertop every night, consider giving Slate a try.