Oral Irrigation and Its Benefits

What is Oral Irrigation?

Oral irrigators were first developed in 1962 as an alternative to dental flossing.  Also known as a “dental water jet”, “water pick”, or “dental irrigator”, an oral irrigator uses a stream of pressurized, pulsating water to clean between teeth and below the gum line. As a result, harmful deep periodontal pocket bacteria that could not otherwise be reached through brushing or flossing, is flushed out and removed.

Recently, there has been a renewed interest in oral irrigation. Numerous studies have supported the hypothesis that daily irrigation with a pulsed water-jet device improves oral health. Maximum benefit appears to be achieved with initial to moderate periodontal patients whose traditional mechanical methods of oral hygiene may be less than ideal. There have also been studies evaluating the efficacy of different antimicrobial agents added to the irrigation unit's reservoir.

These studies have met with varying results, and the literature will be examined to determine current recommendations and expected clinical outcomes. Another area of research is the professional delivery of antimicrobial agents. The most promising agents and techniques for delivering antimicrobial agents in the dental office will be reviewed to enable the clinician to make informed decisions regarding patient therapy.

Oral irrigators for healthy teeth and gums

Adding an oral irrigator to your routine can be invaluable in the fight against gum disease. Specifically, oral water irrigators have been proven to1:

  • Reduce the overall amount of bacteria that increases your risk for developing gum disease.
  • Remove 99% more plaque than brushing alone, especially when used in conjunction with brushing and flossing.
  • Help control gingivitis—particularly in those who don’t floss on a regular basis.
  • Reduce the incidence of gum bleeding.
  • Improve bad breath.

Although oral irrigation was designed to replace flossing, dentists recommend that flossing remain a part of one’s daily oral care routine, as it is more effective at removing plaque than dental irrigation.

Daily irrigation

There are several types of oral irrigators, but like all self-care devices they require daily use for maximum efficacy. The most common type for home use is a pulsed flow irrigator. There are also direct flow or steady stream irrigators. Most of the studies completed on oral irrigation were done using pulsed irrigators by Waterpik Technologies. Results cannot be extrapolated to other pulsating devices or direct flow irrigators.

Another type or oral irrigator, is the pulsed flow, magnetized irrigator. The hypothesis is that the charged water decreases calculus formation as well as achieves the benefits found with non-magnetic irrigators. Two studies have shown a decrease in calculus on lower anterior teeth only with magnetization but no greater reductions in bleeding or gingivitis.

Oral irrigation to the rescue: when flossing isn’t an option

Oral irrigation is often recommended for people who are unable to tolerate flossing. Sensitive gums, orthodontic appliances, diabetes, dental implants, and non-compliance are all reasons why oral irrigation is an effective alternative to flossing. For people with sensitive gums, flossing can prove to be highly irritating; oral irrigators are an excellent alternative, and should be used on a regular basis.

People with orthodontic appliances are also good candidates for using an oral irrigation system because of the difficulty they tend to have flossing around metal wires. Studies have found that people with braces and other orthodontic devices who use an oral irrigator with a specialized tip after brushing, remove three times the amount of plaque as those who use a floss threader, and five times as much plaque as those who only brush.

For those who are averse to flossing or who find it hard to floss regularly, investing in a dental irrigator is a good option. While oral irrigation is not as effective as flossing, it is beneficial if regular flossing has proven difficult. Using an alcohol-free oral rinse that contains essential oils instead of water can yield even better results.

In conclusion, home irrigation can be a key part of treatment planning to care for patients by reducing the numbers of harmful bacteria in the oral cavity, and thus reducing the severity of periodontal disease. Professional irrigation may be limited but new sustained or controlled release devices have shown efficacy when used with scaling and root planing.