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Do you need a water flosser — and should you be filling it with mouthwash? What dentists say about a new viral trend.

Close-up of a young woman using a water flosser
Experts weigh in about using a water flosser. (Getty Images)

Water flossers are all the rage, according to social media, where creators are praising the devices for their megawatt smiles. Many claim that a water flosser is a must-have for clean teeth, good breath and removing tonsil stones. Some TikTokers are even going the extra mile by filling theirs up with mouthwash instead of water. But is that necessary — or even safe? And is using a water flosser more effective than just flossing? What do actual dentists make of the viral trend?

Read on to learn more about water flossers, what they do and why their popularity is booming right now. Below, dentists share their recommendations — and weigh in on all those TikTok claims.

What is a water flosser?

It's a dental device, also known as an oral irrigator, that uses a stream of pulsating, high-pressure water to clean between the teeth and along the gum line. Houston-based dentist Dr. Fatima Khan tells Yahoo Life that a water flosser is "great at reducing gum inflammation and decreasing bleeding" while getting rid of food particles and bacteria in the mouth.

Although many TikTok videos suggest that water flossers — sometimes referred to as a Waterpik, which is a brand of water flosser — are superior to traditional string flossing, there's no research to suggest that's actually the case. In fact, water flossers "do not remove plaque as successfully as traditional floss and should be used in conjunction with floss," says Khan. "Flossing breaks down the bacteria colonies from teeth and gums. The Waterpik, or water flossers, simply rinses these areas."

Dr. Venus Patti, a dentist with Limelight Dental in Ontario, Canada, suggests that there's one way in which the water flossing method might be more effective than string flossing: It's more enjoyable. "That may encourage people to floss more, which makes the results more effective," she tells Yahoo Life.

Who should use a water flosser?

Anybody can benefit from adding the device to their dental hygiene routine. However, it comes highly recommended for those with "orthodontic treatment, gingivitis and periodontal disease," says Khan, as well as "people with dental crowns, implants or bridge work," who might have difficulty reaching certain spots with string floss. "Water flossers help patients with braces clean their teeth far more effectively than with a toothbrush alone," she adds.

According to Patti, "It's also a good choice for older people who have trouble working with string floss or those who think string flossing is a hassle."

Khan agrees. "People who have a difficult time using string floss due to limitations from arthritis or carpal tunnel disease, or individuals that are not getting results they want with string floss alone can add this to their regimen," she says.

Should water flossers be used with mouthwash, or to remove tonsil stones?

If you're on TikTok, you might be tempted to fill your water flosser's reservoir with mouthwash instead of water, or to use it for the removal of tonsil stones, the small deposits of food debris and hardened minerals that form lumps in the tonsils, causing bad breath and coughs. Experts have warnings on giving in to those temptations, however.

While Patti says using a water flosser with mouthwash is OK, it's important to make sure the rinse is diluted with water. "The ratio should be 1:1 of water to mouthwash," she says. "Using more mouthwash than that could damage the device."

Dr. Chris Kim of Livewell Dental in Virginia agrees that substituting water with mouthwash may affect the functionality and performance of the water flosser. And there are no known benefits to adding mouthwash, says Khan, who points out that "most studies conducted [on water flossers] are done with water alone."

As for tonsil stone removal, Kim tells Yahoo Life it's "generally considered safe" but warns that it's "essential to use caution and follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer."

"It's recommended to use a low-pressure setting to avoid causing any discomfort or irritation," says Kim. "For those who do not have access to a water flosser, tonsil stones can be addressed by gently using a cotton swab ... to dislodge them. Additionally, practicing good oral hygiene, including regular brushing and flossing, can help prevent the formation of tonsil stones."

Each expert suggests practicing caution when it comes to trying medical tips and tricks seen on social media. Always verify the source and consult your own physician or dentist to determine what's best for you.