The Complete History of Oral Irrigation (Water Flossing)

The Complete History of Oral Irrigation (Water Flossing)

Oral Irrigators have been around for 60+ years now, but what did the first water flossers look like and how have they changed over the years?

The Invention of the Water Flosser

Sometime around 1955, Dr. C.D. Matterson began working on a device in his garage which he called a “Hydraulic Dental Syringe”.

Water Flossing Patent

As you can see in an illustration from the patent filing above, the device was designed to attach to a faucet and would then use that faucet’s water pressure to shoot a stream of water in between teeth and underneath the gumline.

While this appears to be the first invention of a water flossing type of device, it does not appear that it found commercial success, something that would be achieved only a couple of years later…

Invention of WaterPik

The oral irrigator as we’ve come to know it today wasn’t invented until 1962 when another dentist, Dr. Gerald Moyer came up with the idea for an electrically powered device that could pump a stream of water between the teeth and gums to clean out debris lodged there. He teamed up with a patient and hydraulic engineer John Mattingly to work on the idea.

At some point they also brought another Dentist who worked in the same building onboard, named Dr. Thomas W. Bennett. Bennett helped to perfect the device and provided financial backing to the fledgling company, at the time known as Aqua Tec.

On the 146th attempt, they got the prototype oral irrigator working, but instead of a constant stream it produced a pulsating flow of water. Despite this, Moyer pushed forward and began testing the device on his patients. He received overwhelmingly positive feedback and one customer in particular, Gene Rouse, went on to become an angel investor in the company. 

Was Moyer Inspired by Matterson to Build WaterPik?

Given the fact that Matterson’s patent for the Hydraulic Dental Syringe existed some years prior to Waterpik, many have wondered if Moyer was seeded by Matterson’s idea. While certainly a possibility, the lack of commercial success on the part of Matterson could mean that Moyer was simply never aware of Moyer’s work. Regardless, the pressure that comes from a water faucet is insufficient to remove plaque, which is why water flossers require a motor.

What is clear is that Aqua Tec, which changed their name to WaterPik in 1975, is the inventor of the water flosser in the format that we all know it today. In fact, as we’ve mentioned in a prior post, Vintage WaterPiks are not too different in appearance from moden water flossers!

old water floss unit

A New Era Begins for Water Flossers

With WaterPik becoming the go-to for water flossers for 60 years, but remaining relatively unchanged from the original design, the stage was set for new technologies to improve upon the water flossing concept.

While the original water flosser made flossing more effective and more comfortable, it still left a lot of room for improvement. Most people do not floss because it takes too long (single-jet water flossers take even longer than string) -- and, according to dentists, even those who do use water flossers usually floss incorrectly.

Building upon Dr. Moyer’s original hope to make caring for your gum health more accessible for the average person, Instafloss has pioneered a new type of water flosser: the multi-jet water flosser.

Instafloss improves upon the single jet water flossers that WaterPik introduced the world to by speeding up the process of flossing and aiming for you, providing an automatic floss in 10 seconds. These two benefits will in turn make it so that flossing is both more convenient and more effective than ever before. Something that we believe will drive a gum health revolution.

If that doesn’t make Dr. Moyer (and hopefully you) smile, we don’t know what will.

Learn more about Instafloss here or check out the other topics on our blog.

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