We’ve all been there: you’re sitting in a dark movie theater, munching on delicious popcorn, and you feel the irritatingly inevitable occur—a corn kernel gets lodged between your teeth. While it is especially common with this particular treat, getting food stuck between your teeth is a universal frustration. This annoyance often occurs at the worst possible time—a fancy dinner, an important business lunch, or, yes, even on a movie date, distracting you from your film and causing you to worry about how your smile will look when you leave the theater.
Of course, solving the problem subtly isn’t easy. We’ve all attempted the not-so-demure technique of working the food out with the tongue. Perhaps you’ve even tried to dislodge a kernel or two with an instrument such as a fork. These strategies only make the problem worse, creating a negative impression on your colleagues, dates, family, and friends. At Dr. Craig Armstrong’s Houston dental practice, we’re committed to helping our patients with each and every component of their oral health, which includes your popcorn woes. In the following blog, we provide our tips for getting those crafty corn kernels out of your teeth.
This Snack and Your Smile
According to the Popcorn Board, “Americans consume 13 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually of 42 quarts per man, woman, and child.” This buttery, crunchy snack is a staple of movie theaters across the nation. When properly prepared, without excess butter, salt, and seasoning, it is also a healthy, high-fiber option. Popcorn serves as a nice replacement for fatty, non-nutritious options like chips or fries. It also lacks the starches found in crackers or breads. While these may seem harmless, they actually break down like sugars in your mouth, getting stuck to your teeth and raising your risk for decay. In fact, Delta Dental puts“unbuttered popcorn” on its “snack smart food list” to help patients avoid cavities and other issues.
Dislodging Popcorn and Your Dental Health
Despite popcorn’s benefits, many people avoid it because they’ve had negative experiences with getting it stuck in their teeth. When a piece of corn kernel gets stuck between your teeth, it can be exasperating at best, and even painful, at worst. Leaving a piece of popcorn wedged between your teeth creates a haven for bacteria to gather. Corn kernels can also become lodged under your gum line, which could lead to periodontal infection or even an abscess.
As with most oral health problems, these conditions can worsen and become much more serious if left unaddressed. This is why it is especially important to make sure you remove any particulate matter from between your teeth or under your gums when you enjoy popcorn.
In addition to the damage of leaving a corn kernel stuck in your smile, using the wrong methods to forcibly remove it could also hurt your smile. Prying too hard at your gums, sticking unwashed fingers in your mouth, or using a too-sharp object to dislodge a corn kernel could also injure your teeth and gums. Furthermore, many people believe that toothpicks are a good way to remove popcorn from the teeth. However, toothpicks are actually shown to cause damage to the gum tissue and apply force on the tooth that can even cause gaps. In fact, an article from the Journal of Historical Dentistry explains: “indiscriminate toothpick use can lead to halitosis, dental caries, injury to the interdental papilla, mouth ulcers, allergic reactions, embedment of the device in the back of the mouth or throat, gingival abscesses” and “sensitive teeth,” among other issues.
Fortunately, Dr. Armstrong and our team are here to help you handle the remnants of popcorn the right way to maintain the health and beauty of your teeth and gums.
Our Houston Dental Team’s Suggested Strategies
Let’s return to that dark movie theater and the ill-placed corn kernel between your teeth. What are you to do? Dr. Armstrong and our team recommend:
· Flossing. This is definitely the best method for removing corn kernels from between your teeth and gums. You’ve probably heard over and over again from your dentist that you need to floss. While we may sound like broken records to you, the fact of the matter is that flossing is the only way to safely clean between your teeth. Often, patients believe that brushing alone is able to get between your teeth, but this simply is not possible. Though the toothbrush is very proficient in reaching the other surfaces, the bristles are not able to access in between the teeth. This location is one of the most common places for cavities to develop. The American Dental Association (ADA) explains: “Flossing is an important oral hygiene practice. Tooth decay and gum disease can develop when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth and along the gum line.” Flossing is generally very important, but it is especially crucial when dealing with corn kernels. It’s a good idea to carry it with you on a daily basis. Floss is cheap, quick, and easy to use. To remove a piece of popcorn, or any other particulate matter, with floss, you should simply wrap an arm’s length of floss around your index fingers and guide the floss between every tooth (particularly the one with the corn kernel in it!) and perform an up-and-down motion. This will dislodge any trapped food and bacteria associated with it. Flossing the entire mouth should only take 20 to 30 seconds. Do not use an aggressive saw motion or take multiple minutes to floss. This is unnecessary and usually hurts the gums in the process. Gently flossing can help you become free from annoying popcorn particles and also remove bacteria, which can cause cavities or gum disease. Simply adding flossing to your routine can save you a lot of money and dental anxiety, as well as being a quick fix for a misplaced corn kernel.
· Brushing your teeth. While it may not be quite as precise as flossing and certainly shouldn’t replace it entirely, brushing your teeth is also a great method to remove food caught between your teeth. The ADA recommends brushing your teeth at least twice a day for at least two minutes. In addition to this, you can also brush your teeth after a meal (or popcorn snack!) to quickly remove trapped food. When flossing after meals, you do not have to perform the full two-minute procedure, and you can feel confident that you’ve removed excess food buildup. When brushing, remember that excessively aggressive or vigorous motion can actually damage teeth and gums, so make sure to use a very light touch. As with floss, you can keep a basic manual toothbrush in your purse or car for light touch-ups between meals.
· Rinsing your mouth. Mouth rinse is a great option to supplement your oral hygiene routine and keep your breath fresh. If you do not have access to floss or a toothbrush, rinsing with mouthwash may assist in dislodging food between the teeth. It is typically not very efficient at getting food out from between your teeth. It could assist the process if the popcorn particle is already loosened, plus provide a minty clean feeling. At our Houston dental practice, we compare using mouthwash to placing a very dirty pan in the dishwasher. Often, you may find that if you didn’t remove the food with a brush or sponge, there is still food remaining on the pan after you remove it from the dishwasher. The bacteria that cause oral health issues are very sticky and frequently require more than just a rinse to remove.
· Swishing with water. It’s always a good idea to stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water benefits your overall health and frequent sipping is recommended for patients with cavities because it rinses the tooth surfaces. Swishing with water is a subtle method if you are with an audience, and it could be effective. However, it’s unlikely to work for stubborn food particles, like popcorn kernels.
· Orthodontic treatment. While this certainly isn’t an immediate fix for a wedged-in popcorn kernel, braces could be the answer if you find yourself frequently struggling with food lodged in your teeth. Often, popcorn kernels and other pieces of food get stuck in your teeth because they are misaligned and trap them. This can occur because two teeth are too close together or have too wide of a gap between them. These defects will continue to trap food and may develop into a cavity or gum infection. In these cases, the ultimate best solution is to align the teeth into an ideal position that promotes healthy structures.
If brushing, flossing, rinsing, and swishing aren’t sufficient to dislodge that stubborn popcorn kernel, it’s time to call Dr. Armstrong and our Houston dental team. We will examine your mouth, help you remove the particle, and formulate a treatment plan to help prevent future popcorn problems. We offer a wide range of general and cosmetic dentistry procedures to help you maintain a proper, healthy, popcorn-free smile.
Do You Have Other Oral Health Questions?
Whether you’re suffering from a serious toothache or simply have popcorn stuck in your teeth, there is no question too small for our Houston dental team. Feel free to ask us anything! In addition, if you haven’t seen us in six months or more, it’s time to schedule a biannual dental cleaning and examination appointment. Contact us today to learn more!