With in-person cleanings on the backburner for the moment, at-home oral hygiene has never seemed more important. And while the usual suspects—toothbrush, floss and mouthwash—are no stranger to our routine, we couldn’t help but wonder if there’s an extra step we should be taking to keep our pearly whites looking ultra-healthy between visits. Dr. Bryan P. Jacobs DMD, MS, FACP of the Dental Professionals of Chicago says, in fact, there is. It’s called an oral irrigator. (You may know it more colloquially as a Waterpik, a specific brand.) And with models under $100, they may just be the thing to save your and your kids) teeth. Here’s why, according to Dr. Jacobs.
What's Better Than Flossing According to a Dentist? An Oral Irrigator
What exactly is an oral irrigator?
“It’s essentially a power washer for your teeth, removing plaque and reducing inflammation. It sprays a focused stream of water that can flush out hard-to- or impossible-to-reach places in the mouth. You can even add various types of mouthwash to the water to enhance the effect.”
Why are they so great for at-home care?
“Oral irrigators are great for so many reasons. For one, they’re able to reach any place that water can go—that is, well beyond where traditional brushing and flossing cover. For folks using them at home, they also don't require the precision and dexterity of many flosses and other cleaning aids. Unlike scalers—which really should only be used by dentists and hygienists—it's also very hard to damage your teeth or gums with an oral irrigator. The strength of the spray can be adjusted for comfort too. I also find that they’re very motivating: When patients see the ‘junk’ flow out of their mouths and into the sink, they know that the irrigator is working.”
Do you notice a difference between patients who use them vs. those who don't?
“Absolutely. When patients return after we’ve recommended or given out oral irrigators as part of their treatment plan, our hygienists unanimously tell me that it is immediately obvious who is and who is not using the irrigator, with a just a glance at their gums. And of course, gum measurements and inflammation scores indicate this too.”
Can kids use them?
“There is no reason that children cannot use an oral irrigator. Like anything, for young children, we suggest parents’ coach and observe. The key to frustration-free kids' hygiene is a routine. So, if you were to implement it, it's important that it's not sporadic. Also, keep it fun, like it’s a ‘Nerf gun’ for the teeth.
What about using it with braces?
“One of the most common reasons we recommend oral irrigators is to use around braces—it can make treatment less uncomfortable and also decrease the chance of gum swelling during orthodontics (which sometimes can require early removal of the braces to remedy).”
OK, so what product do you, a dentist, use?
“I personally use a Hydrofloss. It's not as pretty as the Waterpik models out there, but it has an additional feature: The Hydrofloss actually ionizes the water before it sprays, which has been shown in some studies improve plaque removal. For many of my patients, the cordless Waterpik is their favorite because it makes life easy for travel, small countertops and even using it in the shower!”
Below, shop two of the best dentist-recommended oral irrigators.
2. Waterpik Cordless Advanced Water Flosser
Similar to the Hydro Floss, this product is great for patients who aren’t able to integrate regular flossing into their lives, advises Dr. Jacobs. Waterpik offers a few different models, but this one is specifically ideal for folks who travel or don’t have too much counter space.