Trees are Useful, But Not In Your Mouth.

Dear Doctors:

My son just returned from a construction project for several months.  During that time he has taken on a new personal habit, which is sucking on a toothpick for what seems to be hours.  His dental hygiene was always just ‘so-so’ and we know because we paid for it.  Can these toothpicks do any real damage?  

Dear Doctors:

My son just returned from a construction project for several months.  During that time he has taken on a new personal habit, which is sucking on a toothpick for what seems to be hours.  His dental hygiene was always just ‘so-so’ and we know because we paid for it.  Can these toothpicks do any real damage?  

Answer:

The ‘toothpick habit’ is of limited benefit, other than to make craft projects for young children with glue.  If someone had a piece of food that was so lodged between the teeth that an additional tool was required to dislodge it,  we have an entire professional industry which supplies dental floss and sole purpose irrigation machines called Water Piks.  The problem with toothpicks (either wooden or plastic) is that they do not remove plaque very well which is the sticky substance that resides between teeth.  Proper flossing is the best way to control this substance, which is why dental hygienists spend significant time and effort to teach patients the most appropriate methods of using them.  The surface of a toothpick can potentially damage tooth enamel, and actually create problems if used repeatedly over a long period of time.  A more immediate problem is splintering, which can make ‘sliver like’ pieces which can damage one’s gums, roof of mouth, and the enamel on a tooth itself. These slivers may be swallowed, and can remain in the tissue creating an infection with an entire new source of discomfort. When a young person wears orthodontic braces they occasionally get quite inventive with methods of dislodging food particles. It has happened that the wire itself may become dislodged with constant ‘picking’ at it with a toothpick. If a patient phoned with a broken or loose archwire in their mouth and were unable to see a dentist immediately, bending it away from the pressure point with the eraser end of a pencil is one useful tool for temporary relief.  It should never be cut off with a metal working tool – ever.  Handymen do not create better dental situations for the most part.  Choking is a more immediate danger. Many actions are involuntary, including falling off a bicycle. The damage done can be extremely painful.  It is possible to swallow a toothpick whole, and there are two points now causing harm simultaneously. Surprisingly, more people choke on toothpicks annually than do so from food.  Dentists interpret this habit as one with more negatives than positives!  The one habit more dangerous to oral health is holding roofing nails between the teeth as a method to speed up a job.  The toxic material on galvanized nails is terrible for teeth and overall health. 

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