Humans have been using wooden sticks to clean their teeth for thousands of years, according to examinations of 7,500-year-old-teeth showing grooves in their enamel. However, it turns out that toothpicks may do more harm than good.
Toothpicks Cause Oral Damage
The grooves in ancient teeth attest to the fact that scraping a small wooden stick across your teeth can actually damage the enamel over time. Additionally, poking at your gum line can cause lacerations and open your gums up to bacteria that can lead to infection. Lightly removing a large piece of food lodged around your front teeth can be harmless, but further cleaning of your teeth should be done with a flexible floss stick or dental floss.
No matter the tool you use, you should never poke or scrape under your gum line. A splinter from a toothpick can become lodged under your gumline or into your gums, meaning bacteria can grow in these areas without your knowing it, leading to infection or gum disease.
Toothpicks Can Be Deadly
Believe it or not, toothpicks kill more people per year than shark attacks or plane crashes. Ingesting a toothpick can lead to gut injuries that can result in peritonitis, sepsis and death. Still a rare event, toothpick ingestion can go unnoticed if it's buried in a sandwich you're eating.
A recent case study involved a man who swallowed a toothpick that was in his sandwich without him knowing it. He became sick with abdominal pain and recurring fevers. Multiple X-rays showed nothing since toothpicks don't show up on medical imaging. A colonoscopy also showed nothing. However, surgery finally revealed that the toothpick had lodged in an intestinal artery, with gut bacteria leaking into the man's bloodstream. Fortunately, the man survived, even after suffering for months.
Although a relatively rare occurrence, toothpick ingestion is an emergency, with perforations in the intestines common and mortality high. Timely localization of the toothpick is of the utmost importance to prevent further damage to your body.
If you're a regular toothpick user, you may want to rethink your tooth cleaning tool. Contact our office to schedule your routine visit, so that we can discuss safer and more effective options for dislodging food from between your teeth.