Tuesday, July 28, 2009


It was sometime in the late 1960’s that a new appliance found its way into our home.

Not an electric coffeepot; not a waffle iron or toaster. This was something new, something health-related. It was a Waterpik, a device whose function was to irrigate and massage your gums with a high-pressure pulsating jet of water. Years later, I would see similar devices in use at the Great Corporate Salt Mine’s refineries and chemical plants, where the process is known as hydroblasting.

Both of my parents were long-time sufferers of gum disease, probably spending as much time or more with their periodontist than at their regular dentist. For them, the Waterpik was a godsend.

Waterpik oral irrigation devices were very popular in the 1970’s, but since then they have settled back into a minor slot in the American consciousness. Which is unfortunate, because they really are that rara avis: devices that actually perform a useful function... unlike half the crap I own.

After I moved out of Chez Eli and went off to university, I didn’t think about the old Waterpik all that much. But eventually, one would end up in our house, mainly used by She Who Must Be Obeyed, whose closely-spaced teeth made using regular dental floss a near-impossibility. A few years back, she bought an updated model to help manage her oral hygiene while she was wearing braces... and just recently, I went and got one of my own.

Believe me when I tell you that your mouth will never feel cleaner than right after you have used a Waterpik. It blasts all the hidden guck out from under the gumline, including all the crap you thought you had gotten out by flossing. And if you really want to clear out your head, you can do what I did after my nasal surgery seven years ago...

I had had a septoplasty... correction of a deviated nasal septum. As part of the postoperative regimen, I was supposed to irrigate myself with warm salt water, for which purpose I had been given a rubber bulb syringe. But I had a better idea... and it involved using our old Waterpik. You can do it too!

You simply take one of the regular dental irrigation tips and cut off the end with a hacksaw, leaving only a one-inch length. You then fill the tank with warm saline solution, jam the irrigation tip up one nostril, and hold the other nostril closed. Now start the machine running - at the lowest pressure setting, of course - with your mouth open over the sink.

Once you get used to the remarkably disconcerting sensation of having your head fill with warm salt water (it’s a bit like drowning), Waterpikking your head out is not all that bad. That is, until you look at the stuff being washed out of your sinuses. Yeef. One time as I was Head-Pikking, something that looked like a cross between a Big Mac and SpongeBob SquarePants came floating out...

Maybe you’d better stick to using the Waterpik on your gums, at that.

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