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If I’m Not Great About Flossing, Should I Get a Waterpik?

Best Water Picks 2020
Photo-Illustration: The Strategist. Photos: Retailers

A few years ago, after watching an episode of Queer Eye in which grooming expert Jonathan Van Ness gives a lazy man named Remington a Waterpik, I wondered whether (like Remington) buying one would motivate me to develop better interdental cleaning habits. Emboldened by JVN, I typed “water pick” into Google. A quick search took me to a long and overwhelming Amazon list. Instead of giving up, confused, I decided to close the tab and call a bunch of dental professionals, including my own dentist. After getting their recommendations, I decided that a cordless Waterpik was the best fit for my lifestyle and my limited bathroom counter space. I’m still using it, but I started to wonder if it’s still the best tool for the job, or if there are newer, better versions of my Waterpik out there. So I reached out to more dentists to see if our past research holds up.

Everyone we talked to agrees that, ideally, you should use traditional floss followed by a water flosser to remove food particles from between your teeth and prevent cavities. However, most of them acknowledge that the best tool with which to do that cleaning is really the one you know you’ll use correctly and most often — whether that’s dental floss, one of those little interdental brushes, a water flosser, or all of the above. “Because so many people have a difficult time flossing properly, using a water flosser with the ADA Seal of Acceptance has been proven to be as effective, if not more effective, than traditional flossing at removing plaque between teeth,” explains Dr. Jill Lasky of Lasky Pediatric Dental in Studio City, California. “Many just put the floss between their teeth instead of making the recommended C-shape with the floss to ensure it properly contacts all surfaces of the teeth. Water flossers are less technique-sensitive.” And much harder to screw up.

When it comes to the proper water-flosser technique, Dr. Samantha Rawdin puts it this way: “With a Waterpik, you want to close your lips slightly around the tip of it and lean over the sink so water doesn’t go everywhere. Then you’ll want to direct the tip of the water flosser down toward the gums and go in a scalloped motion along the gum line of each tooth on both the inside and outside — and accept that it’s going to be a little messy during the learning curve.” You’ll also want to reserve your water flossing for nighttime. “When we go to sleep, we have reduced salivary flow and bacteria will feed off of anything that’s left in your mouth. It wreaks havoc because now there’s no saliva — a natural buffer that clears out bacteria when you swallow,” says Dr. Elisa Mello of NYC Smile Design.

Nighttime Waterpik use will also give you the time and space to figure out your new, slightly messy routine. “Like anything else, a Waterpik is something you need to get used to,” says Dr. Lana Rozenberg of Rozenberg Dental. “It sprays water at a high speed, and it can spray it everywhere.” In fact, “some people will use it in the shower because there’s so much water.”

Indeed, the first time I used my cordless Waterpik, I wasn’t expecting the sheer force of the spray. Nor did I realize how frothy the mix of mouthwash and water would get when pressurized. I ended up basically power-washing the bathroom mirror with a mix of Colgate mouthwash, water, and my own spit. But after some almost daily practice I’ve become markedly less messy. Below, the 11 best water flossers to try right now, according to Rawdin, Mello, Rozenberg and a bunch of other dentists and dental hygienists we spoke with.

Best overall water flosser

$44

Of the 29 dentists and dental hygienists we talked to, 23 say that they prefer the Waterpik brand because of its longevity in the market. “They are the holy grail of Waterpiks and flossers, and I recommend their product to all my patients,” says Brooklyn-based dentist Dr. Elliot Eskenazi. “This brand is to water flossers what Kleenex is to tissues.” According to AsktheDentist.com founder Dr. Mark Burhenne, “The company stands behind its products better than other brands with unrecognizable names.” Dr. Dimitri Mantazis of Hove Dental Clinic appreciates the brand’s wide array of models, “from basic to more advanced to cordless.” Dr. Moses A. Belgrade says he’s been using a Waterpik since dental school “43 years ago.” And Dr. Mojgan Fajiram says that Waterpik models are a proven “way to aid in removing food and bacteria.”

When it came to traditional Waterpiks, six of our sources preferred the Waterpik Aquarius, which comes with ten different pressure settings — an important feature according to most of the folks we talked to. Because gum sensitivity and the spaces between people’s teeth can vary so much, having a lot of options ensures that you can personalize the pressure to your individual mouth. Dr. Siama Muhammad of Brooklyn Oak Dental Care recommends Waterpiks like this to patients who don’t have good flossing habits. “Sometimes if you get a gadget, it can help,” she explains, while emphasizing that “we do still recommend flossing, though, because floss will still give you that snap between the contacts of your teeth. I like the Waterpik Aquarius, and I prefer the corded version because it’s more powerful.” Dr. Pia Lieb (founder of Cosmetic Dentistry Center NYC), Dr. Memari Masoud, Dr. Adam Silevitch (a partner at Pediatric Dentists NYC), Dr. Allison Rifkin (of Rifkin Dental), and Dr. Irina Sinensky (of Dental House) also recommend the Waterpik Aquarius to their patients. Sinensky explains why it edges out a lot of others on the market: “It offers water-control buttons on the handle, 90-second run time, ten pressure settings, seven different tips, 360-degree rotation of the tip, and a significantly large water tank.” Lieb is most impressed with the strength of the Aquarius. “It has the strongest engine on the market,” she says, explaining that “you want really strong water power to push as much food and debris off of the tooth structure as possible.”

While there are smaller portable models (we’ve listed some below), Eskenazi prefers countertop models, like the Aquarius, because they’re “more powerful and easy to navigate.” Rozenberg agrees that while “the obvious downside” of this unit is its size, for serious water flossers, moving some other products into the medicine cabinet may well be worth it: “It’s a great, great tool.”

Best Waterpik for tiny bathrooms

If you have serious space constraints but still prefer a non-portable Waterpik with a decent reservoir tank, Rozenberg says that this mini model is essentially the condensed version of the Waterpik Aquarius.​ “It’s smaller and it’s quite user-friendly,” she explains. “It’s ideal for small bathrooms, especially in the city.” While it’s a nice option for those of us with roommates to compete with for sink space, just be aware that this model doesn’t come with a case, and won’t pack up for travel as easily as the ones detailed below.

Best cordless Waterpik

Six of the dentist and hygienists we consulted recommend the Waterpik cordless water flosser for people with limited space or those who might want to use it in the shower to minimize the potential mess. Dr. Inna Chern of New York General Dentistry says that she has been “heavily” recommending Waterpiks to her patients and has seen a “massive improvement in stains and between-teeth plaque buildup.” She specifically recommends the Waterpik Cordless water flosser (the one I use) to teens with braces, elderly people, and people who don’t have room for a bulkier countertop model. She also uses this Waterpik at home, along with her husband and 12-year-old daughter. “I tend to recommend Waterpik’s cordless model. I like it because we have limited bathroom-counter space and it easily goes into our medicine cabinet. It is much easier and more efficient than flossing. This model and all Waterpik brand flossers are excellent for braces, whether conventional or clear aligners. And for people with dexterity issues, it’s a very easy-to-hold model, lightweight (under a pound), and versatile.” Lieb says that for such a small appliance, the Waterpik cordless water flosser has “a good amount of power” — up to 75 psi. And Dr. Greg Grobmyer, a certified D.D.S., says “Its battery life is one of the best on the market, and the design is great.”

Best travel-friendly water flosser

Seven of the experts we talked to called out the Philips Sonicare AirFloss.
Dr. Sinensky mentioned the Sonicare AirFloss’s slim profile and portability. It uses half the water as other models, and its mechanism is different: “It shoots out air and water particles only when activated by a button. This makes it less messy but more challenging to be thorough,” she says. Dr. Stephanie Dumanian of Park Lex 60 Dental says that while other water flossers may be “bulky and ‘unsexy,’ this wireless option is sleek, easy to use, and doesn’t leave your favorite pajamas drowning in drool.” A refreshing trick: Fill the built-in water reservoir with mouthwash, says Dr. Dumanian. If that doesn’t sell you, Dr. Jackson has a compelling patient story: “I have a patient who in the past would not floss for the life of him— not for anything—and with this flosser, I saw a drastic difference. He had severe gingivitis and it went from that to nothing when we saw him over a couple years.”

In addition to the AirFloss, Dr. Dumanian recommends this compact travel model that also features a built-in water reservoir. “You can charge it via USB, which allows for easy traveling,” she says. “The five nozzles allow for flexible usage in hard-to-reach areas and for a more targeted approach.” It has five pressure settings, so you can adjust the intensity around more sensitive areas and, like the AirFloss, it’s waterproof, so you can use it in the shower.

[Editor’s note: This portable water flosser is expected to ship at the end of November, but you can order it now.]

Burst Water Flosser
$59
$59

Strategist writer Jenna Milliner-Waddell was gifted this water flosser in between dental check-ups, and has made it her daily go-to. “What I like about this water flosser is how portable it is,” she says. “Once charged, it can go for days and is compact enough to take on vacation or with you in the shower.” Unfortunately, portability comes at the expense of capacity. The water reservoir will need to be refilled after about 60 seconds if you’re using it for the recommended 90 seconds, but “it holds your place and only runs for whatever the remaining seconds are, then shuts off automatically.” For Milliner-Waddell, this slight inconvenience is worth it: “My teeth feel super clean afterward. It’s always super satisfying — and gross — to see what this device blasts from in between my teeth when I spit.”

Best two-in-one water flossers and electric toothbrushes

Nine of the experts we talked to recommend the Waterpik Sonic-Fusion because it combines brushing and water flossing in one appliance, has a built-in timer, and features adjustable water-pressure controls for sensitive teeth. Dr. Mello uses it herself and tells us it’s one of the best ways to keep your teeth clean in between dentist appointments. Dr. Jacqueline Fulop-Goodling, an orthodontist at New York’s Dr. Smiles, says, “This product switches from brushing to flossing to both, and it removes the harmful bacteria and debris deep between teeth and below the gum line that traditional brushing and dental floss can’t reach.” In fact, Dr. Marie Jackson of Stellar Smile Center in Montclair, New Jersey, specifically recommends water flossers for people with different dental restorations, which are harder to keep clean. She also recommends them for pregnant people. “When someone’s expecting, they may suffer from something called pregnancy gingivitis,” she says. “This is where having a tool in addition to the floss and toothbrush can help stimulate blood flow to the gums to help reduce swelling.”

Photo: retailer

If you’re looking to save some money, Dr. Mello also recommends this two-in-one from Waterpik, which is under $100. While the above is a brush-water flosser combo in one head, this model separates the devices while maintaining many of the same controls and features. The flosser has ten different pressure settings and the toothbrush has three sonic modes. If you aren’t giving your teeth the recommended two-minute brushing time, this might be a better option for you than the Flossing Toothbrush. When brushing, you won’t be interrupted by the flosser’s 60-second timer. If you do want to save time though, Dr. Mello says you can double fist the toothbrush and flosser and use them at the same time, which not only gives you the same experience as the above for a fraction of the cost, but she says it’ll “feel like you’re getting a cleaning at the dental office.”

Dr. Mello also likes this option from Poseidon. It doesn’t have the name recognition of the Waterpik, but it’s cheaper and has some of the same features. Both the flosser and the brush have different settings, it comes with three different irigator tips and brush heads, and has the added bonus of being cordless and more compact than the two above. And, as Dr. Rozenberg points out, convenience can be a priority when it comes to water flossers. As long as you’re developing a daily habit, your oral health will improve. “Whatever you use, if you’re going to use it, it’s going to work,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be the best or most expensive model.”

Best professional-grade water flosser

Both Jona Trottier, a dental hygienist in New Ashford, Massachusetts, and Dr. Daniel Balaze, a dentist practicing in South Orange County, California, recommend the HydroFloss HydroMagnetic Oral Irrigator because it reverses the polarity of ions in the water, which can help inhibit bacteria and plaque from adhering to teeth. It also features a pulsating water flow that massages gums and loosens debris. Trottier says she can always tell if patients have been slacking at home: “When you’re sitting every single day for eight hours digging in someone’s gums, you kinda know what people are doing or not doing. There are so many people that just can’t floss between their teeth for a variety of reasons (like dexterity problems). But all kinds of people feel a huge benefit from this water flosser because they get these big pieces of debris and food particles coming off.”

Best water flossers for kids and adults with sensitive gums

Six different dentists recommend this bright-green water flosser for kids because of its gentleness — there is always the danger (especially for children) of using a water flosser at too high an intensity, which can be damaging to young and sensitive gum tissue. Dr. Alexandra Brennan of Children’s Dental Associates in New London, Connecticut, says she likes Waterpik’s water flosser for kids because it’s designed with a lower-intensity dial, so users of any age “don’t end up injuring their [gum] tissue at all.” She also notes that the Waterpik for kids comes in fun colors, and with a handful of different stickers, so you can decorate it. “They make it kid-friendly in hopes that kids and teens will actually use it. And for braces, it includes different adapters like a special brush to help clean around the brackets.” Grobmyer, who is a parent, says that water flossers can be especially useful for children with braces, or who are fussy about brushing their teeth, saying, “water flossers can make this tedious activity more appealing and engaging for kids and teens.”

Additional reporting by Jenna Milliner-Waddell and Katherine Gillespie