Managing Wellness

Why Toothpicks Shouldn’t Be Used to Clean Your Teeth

  • Getting food stuck between your teeth can be annoying and embarrassing, but using a toothpick is not the answer
  • When it comes to toothpicks and oral care, there are safer and more efficient options
  • If you frequently get food lodged between your teeth, see your dentist—there may be a reason
Posted by August 31, 2017

Eating corn-on-the cob, roast beef or poppy-seed bagels can often land you with a piece of food stuck between your teeth. Not only can this be uncomfortable, but also unattractive. Usually, the first thing people grab is a toothpick. But any dentist will tell you, when it comes to toothpicks and oral care, there are safer and more efficient options.

Why Food Gets Stuck

Some foods, like those pesky little seeds on buns and in raspberries, can get trapped in anyone’s teeth. But if you or your employees frequently get food wedged between your teeth, there may be a reason. For instance, fillings can break down or be improperly shaped, causing food to get lodged. Teeth can also shift and create spaces perfect for trapping large pieces of food. These types of dilemmas should be brought to the attention of a dentist.

History of the Toothpick

Some form of the toothpick has always been around. Twigs, grass, bamboo and porcupine quills were some of the earliest tools used to clean teeth. Eventually gold, silver and ivory became the choice of kings and queens. Charles Forster, of Boston, was the first to make handmade wooden toothpicks in the U.S. By 1860, he produced them in Strong, Maine, with machinery to keep up with the growing demand. The town eventually became known as the toothpick capital of the world, but in 2003 Forster Manufacturing produced its last wooden toothpick. While toothpick materials have evolved, toothpick etiquette has remained the same since the 17th century: picking your teeth during a meal or in public is not considered polite, nor is having a toothpick tucked behind your ear or hanging out of your mouth.

Why Not a Toothpick?

According to the Academy of General Dentistry, using a toothpick is fine when no other options are available and if you are very careful. But dentists don’t recommend them for regular use. The problem? A piece of the wood can break off and get lodged in the gum tissue. Once the gum tissue is pierced, bacteria can enter and cause an infection. If you are, or have been, a frequent toothpick user, your dentist is likely to notice some damage to your gums during a dental exam.

While these tiny wooden sticks aren’t great for your oral health, they do have other uses—like testing cakes for doneness, lighting candles and cleaning keyboards. Just keep them out of your mouth!

Interdental Cleaning Aids

The ideal way to remove food from your teeth is with dental floss. Flossing once a day also removes harmful plaque hiding on the sides of the teeth. Along with thorough brushing, flossing is instrumental in helping prevent tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath.

Anyone who has arthritis or trouble maneuvering floss around the mouth can purchase floss holders; some are even pre-threaded. Depending on a person’s specific needs, a dentist may suggest using tiny spiral brushes (especially helpful with fixed bridges) or a water flosser, an at-home dental tool that uses a targeted stream of water to remove plaque and food particles between the teeth.

The American Dental Association has given their Seal of Approval to one type of wooden interdental cleaner: the Stim-U-Dent. These cleaners are made of soft flexible wood and are uniquely shaped to safely fit between the teeth. They can push out a bit of stuck food, as well as remove plaque from the teeth. So, keeping a pack of Stim-U-Dents or floss handy is useful if you’re prone to this issue.

The next time you see an employee digging around his or her teeth with a toothpick, be sure to offer them a Stim-U-Dent or a piece of floss, as well as a brief lesson on the taboos of using toothpicks.

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