Have an annoying piece of food stuck between your teeth? For many of our patients here in Nashville, TN, using a toothpick seems like the easiest, most convenient way to get rid of those pesky bits of food. Although toothpicks are one of the earliest forms of dental tools, they are not particularly gentle with your teeth. In fact, using a toothpick excessively can even end up harming the health of your teeth and gums.
Of course, there are times when opting for a toothpick is fine. After all, it’s important to get food particles and bacteria from between your teeth as soon as possible. Leaving pieces of food between your teeth allows for bacteria to feed upon it and flourish. Leaving this problem untreated for a period of time will end up increasing your risk for tooth decay and gum disease. It can be difficult to decide when it’s a good time to use a toothpick and when you should simply break out your floss. To help shed light on this topic, Drs. Elam, Vaughan, & Fleming share more about the potential dangers of using a toothpick.
A Brief Look at the History of the Toothpick
Before we explain the potential dangers associated with using toothpicks, let’s take a look at why toothpicks are a popular option and how long they’ve been around. Like we mentioned before, toothpicks are one of the earliest forms of dental tools. Before the invention of the toothbrush, individuals would use a toothpick to help clean their teeth. This dates all the way back neanderthals and homo sapiens. Archaeologists have found signs of prehistoric humans picking at their teeth with a toothpick-like tool. Later in history, toothpicks began to become popular among the upper class. The upper class would even have toothpicks made from gold, silver or ivory and would often have it encrusted with precious stones.
Modern toothpicks as we know them didn’t come around until the 1800s. Disposable toothpicks became popular in 1865 when Charles Foster began selling them in Boston. Foster allegedly created a market for toothpicks after getting Harvard students to demand for toothpicks at local restaurants loudly. He first began by selling handmade toothpicks, but he soon created a machine to help accommodate the growing demand for toothpicks. Since Foster created the market for toothpicks, they have continued to be a staple product in the country.
Three Ways Toothpicks Harm Your Smile
While toothpicks are a quick solution for pieces of food lodged in between your teeth, using them too frequently or too aggressively can end up harming your smile. We recommend using a toothpick as a last resort and should only be used when you don’t have access to floss. Toothpicks are harmful to your oral health for several reasons, which includes:
Toothpicks scrape enamel: Using a toothpick frequently can cause you to scrape off your tooth enamel. The wooden material used for toothpicks can be quite harsh on your teeth and with enough use, you can significantly harm your enamel. The tooth enamel is important for your smile because it protects the inner layers of your tooth where the blood vessels and nerves are located.
Toothpicks harm gum tissue: Poking and prodding your gums with a toothpick can end up irritated them and causing inflammation. After enough time, this can even cause your gums to recede and begin to pull away from your teeth.
Less likely to practice good oral health: Using a toothpick to remove food from teeth does not mean you should stop flossing or brushing. Toothpick usage is merely an extra step you can take if you want to immediately remove an annoying piece of food from your teeth. Many patients are under the impression that flossing isn’t necessary if you’ve used a toothpick. In reality, there are probably still food particles and bacteria hiding away in between teeth and underneath the gum line that the toothpick cannot reach.
Contact our Office in Nashville
We definitely understand why a toothpick is a useful tool for many patients. Of course, we’d still like to remind our patients to use it sparingly when possible. Instead, we recommend using floss instead of a toothpick. Flossing can help to remove that pesky piece of food while also removing excess bacteria hidden away. Not only is flossing more efficient at removing food and plaque, but it is also safe for the health of your teeth and gums.
If you have any concerns relating to your dental health, we offer a variety of services to best help you address your worries. For more information on how we can assist you, contact our office today and learn more about our services ranging from general family dentistry to specialized restorative services.