So you are looking for alternatives to string floss or interdental brushes and you’ve come across water flossing as a potential alternative. You may have also come across a product called the Sonicare AirFloss from electronics giant Philips. While water flossers and the AirFloss sometimes get lumped together in the same category because they both use similar technology, there are some differences. In this article we look at what makes these two products different, and how we can effectively compare the two.
A couple of things to note before we start first – in this article we will refer to the product as water flossers and not just Waterpik. While Waterpik the brand, is often synonymous with water flossing, it is not the only manufacturer of water flossers. In this article we compare the overall technology of water flossers and the Airfloss, and not the specific models within each type of technology.
How to compare Waterpik Water Flossers and Airfloss
Overall there are probably 4 things you want to compare with these products.
Effectiveness – how does their effectiveness differ? Which is better at reducing plaque and gingivitis? Which is less irritating on the gums? This should be about evidence-based clinical research, not marketing messages.
Ease of use – You can’t underestimate ease of use. The reason why string floss and interdental brushes are not ubiquitous is not because they are not effective. It is because they are simply a hassle to use. Dental practitioners have been recommending string floss for decades but using floss is messy, time-consuming and can be difficult if you have injuries or issues with your hands/fingers. If the product is a bit of a hassle to use, then it simply won’t be used, and then it doesn’t matter how effective it is.
Maintenance – how easy is it to maintain? How often do you need to charge your battery or change parts?
Price – Obviously your budget is key to making these decisions as well.
But before we compare them using this criteria, it’s important to understand how they work.
How do Waterpik water flossers work?
In a nutshell, water flossers project a steady jet of water. This stream of water removes food particles and plaque from between your teeth. A water flosser has 3 essential components: a container/reservoir to store the water, a motor to pump out the water, and a nozzle to direct the water stream. Water flossers are also referred to as oral irrigators (yeah I know – water flossing sounds much better than ‘oral irrigation’).
There are countertop water flossers that hold larger amounts of water, but there are also handheld water flossers as well. For the purpose of making a more like-for-like comparison we will compare the cordless, handheld Waterpik water flossers with the Sonicare Airfloss.
How does Sonicare Airfloss work?
Airfloss uses a patented technology called micro-droplet technology. This technology uses a combination of water and air. It uses compressed air, which shoots the droplets of water at up to 45 miles/hour. It’s this burst of air and water that removes the food particles from between your teeth.
This technology was actually developed as an alternative to water flossers, which according to their research and feedback from users of water flossers, used a lot of water and could be messy.
Several clinical studies have been conducted by research institutions and published in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry. These are all controlled, randomised studies using sound research methodology. Overall they seem to show that Waterpik water flossers are more effective than Sonicare Airfloss in some important areas – results showed that:
- Water flossing is more effective at reducing plaque than the Airfloss
- Water flossing is more effective at reducing gingivitis than the Airfloss
- Water flossing is more effective at reducing bleeding than the Airfloss
These are some of the studies:
It is important to note that while there are differences in the results in favour of water flossing, in all of these studies BOTH devices showed significant reductions in gingivitis, bleeding and plaque.
Philips the makers of the Airfloss, argue that the studies made showing the superior efficacy of Waterpik water flossers use older models of Airfloss, before the Airfloss Pro was released.
Verdict: The edge appears to go the Waterpik water flossers
Ease of Use
How easy the product is to use is absolutely critical. The reason string floss is not widely used is simply because most people find it a bit of a hassle to use. When something is a hassle, people stop doing it, and if you stop using that product you’ve wasted your money, and more importantly your oral health will suffer.
Sonicare Airfloss studies have shown that Sonicare Airfloss has an edge over string floss and water flossers in terms of ease of use. In one study 69% of study participants reported Sonicare AirFloss as easier to use than a water flosser. Another study showed that it was considered easier to use than water flossers by three out of four dental practitioners. The study also reported Sonicare AirFloss as gentler on the teeth and gums than string floss and that Sonicare AirFloss provided better access to the back of the mouth than string floss. Also:
- 82% of users surveyed said AirFloss Pro was easier to use than Waterpik Aquarius (however the Aquarius is a countertop water flosser so this isn’t a surprise)
- AirFloss Pro is 1/2 the size and 1/3 the weight of Waterpik Cordless
- AirFloss Pro uses less than 3 tbsp of liquid per use, for significantly less mess potential than with Waterpik Aquarius
Ultimately the main reason for this difference in usability is the amount of water that the Airfloss requires compared to Waterpik water flossers. With water flossers you need to absolutely lean over a sink and constantly spit out water. It can be messy. And if you are using a countertop water flosser there is added hassle because now you need counter space, you are dealing with cords, and even bigger volumes of water.
Both the Sonicare Airlfloss and Waterpik Cordless water flossers take about a 60 seconds to use.
Verdict: the Sonicare Airfloss is generally simpler and easier to use.
Generally the price points are similar. If we look at similar models, the higher end cordless Waterpik Cordless Advanced is about $80 and the Airfloss pro is about $90. Both brands have cheaper models from about the $50-80 range. The countertop Waterpik water flossers range from $60-80.
Verdict: Prices are similar.
How are they similar?
We’ve talked a lot about how these two products are different and what sets them apart. But actually, the differences are not so significant that one is vastly more superior than the other. In fact, they have more similarities than they have differences and for both, their main strength is in the basic technique of using streams of water and the advantages this has over traditional string flossing. I would summarise their similarities with the following:
- They both use bursts of water in their technology to clear out food particles and plaque.
- They are both very effective at reducing plaque and gingivitis.
- They are both especially useful for clearing food and bacteria between the teeth for people with braces or implants.
- They are both much easier to use than string floss
- They are both safe to use and do not harm tissues
Generally if you are mostly concerned about efficacy, Waterpik water flossers have the edge, and if you are more concerned about the usability, then Sonicare Airfloss is a good option. Overall, these two products are similar in what they do and ultimately their main advantage is in the advantage they have over string floss. At the end of the day these are both quality products which is why both carry the ADA (American Dental Assocation) Seal of Accepatance for Powered Interdental Cleaners.
The most important thing to remember is that whatever you buy, you need to use it, and not let it collect dust like your string floss!