I think everyone has had that moment where they get a piece of food stuck between their teeth and just can’t seem to get it out. Whether it is popcorn, meat, or a piece of fruit, it can be super frustrating! Even more so than being frustrating, if it stays stuck too long it can actually cause damage to your gums or contribute to cavities.
So what are some of the common reasons food gets stuck?
- You have a small space in between your teeth. This can either be how your teeth are naturally or sometimes your dentist will accidentally leave a small space when doing a filling or crown. If you’re consistently getting food caught right after having dental work done, ask your dentist what can be done to fix it.
- You have a cavity in between your teeth. When these cavities get big enough you start to develop a small hole in between your teeth. Food tends to trap in these areas pretty commonly.
- Your teeth are loose. If you have loose teeth from orthodontic treatment, excessive grinding/clenching, or from advanced gum disease it can cause food to get caught. The teeth will move just enough to allow the food to get caught. If it is from orthodontic treatment, it’s nothing to be concerned about. Your teeth will tighten back up after treatment is finished. If it is related to clenching and grinding then you should invest in a nightguard. This will lessen the amount of pressure on individual teeth and allow them to tighten back up. If it is from advanced gum disease, it is more tricky. Most of the time if your teeth are loose from bone loss, we can stop the process from progressing any more but can’t regrow bone yet.
- Gum recession that creates spaces around the teeth, especially in between where food can get caught. These are known as black triangles.
- Specific foods get stuck more than others. Even if everything is perfect in your mouth you’re still going to get sticky foods, popcorn, and occasionally meat stuck between your teeth.
- Sometimes you think you’ve got food caught but don’t actually. If you can allow your tongue to leave it alone long enough it’ll start to feel normal again.
There are several good ways to get the food out.
- Floss. If you have it available it is usually the best option. Some simple flossing will get most things out but if you’ve got an especially difficult piece of food stuck you’ll have to add an extra step. Make a small knot in the floss and then pop it down between the teeth as usual. Once you’ve done this you can grab both ends of the floss and pull the floss out sideways. This will allow the knot to catch anything that is stuck between the teeth.
- Toothpicks. This is the classic option for people who like eating corn on the cob. I don’t particularly love toothpicks because they’re a bit too big and can cause damage to your gums while you’re poking about. If you do use them, just make sure to use them carefully and not traumatize your gum tissue.
- Proxabrush. These are those cleaners you see at the drug store that look like tiny little Christmas trees. You can slide them in between the teeth and they’ll pull anything out that is stuck.
- Waterpik. If you’ve got a Waterpik, this can be a great option for removing food between your teeth. It uses a high powered jet of water to clean your teeth.
- Dental cleaning instrument. You can pick these up right next to where you find the floss. These can be good for going slightly under the gums to pull anything out.
- In some cases you’ll get a popcorn kernel lodged way under the gums and you can’t get it out yourself. If you’ve tried everything else, see your dentist asap to have them remove it before it causes problems.
All of this is important because having food stuck between your teeth can cause a variety of dental problems.
- Gum disease. If food is lodged down low enough it can cause a localized infection that causes your bone to slowly recede.
- Cavities. Food trapped next to your tooth provides a perfect source of food for the bacteria that cause cavities. I’ve seen a lot of patients who have developed cavities in the same exact spot where food has been getting caught.
- Bad breath. Food stuck in the mouth smells terrible. Keeping your mouth and tongue clean is one of the easiest ways to reduce bad breath.