Medically Reviewed
by Dental District
Medically Reviewed by Jilian Lopiano

Probably all of us have cleaned our teeth with a toothpick after eating, especially when we go out to a restaurant and do not carry the toothbrush with us. There are even those who use these sticks to remove remains of meat or food stuck between the interdental spaces because they cannot do it with brushing. But how good is this practice?

Today, on The Dental District blog, we will tell you why cleaning your teeth with a toothpick is not recommended.

Why are toothpicks used?

Different kind of toothpicks have been used since ancient times as there are records that in Mesopotamia twigs of areca or palm tree were used to clean teeth five thousand years ago! The highest class societies used toothpicks made of gold, iron, copper, ivory, some with rounded tips, animal bones, among other materials.

However, it is not recommended even though it is an ancient practice, for the following reasons:

They are not sterilized

The most used toothpicks are wooden ones. They are often made available to customers in restaurants and bars, as well as being part of the kitchen supplies in many homes. However, they are not properly sterilized, so they can carry bacteria into the mouth and cause an infection, and if a person has gingivitis, it can get worse.

And what about the plastic toothpicks? Some dental flosses with a handle include a plastic toothpick, which is recommended for teeth, but its use must be very careful not to bite the gum and hurt it.

They have a sharp point

Toothpicks have a very sharp point, as they are often used to join pieces of meat, vegetables or fruit to prepare snacks or make skewers. Precisely that sharp tip, which is the one used to remove debris from interdental spaces, can bite the gum, make it bleed, cause pain, inflammation and cause gum infections.

don't clean your teeth with toothpicks

They favor waste accumulation

Ironically, toothpicks are used to remove food debris in the interdental spaces. However, they are not suitable instruments and can push debris further back, causing more debris to accumulate between teeth spaces and on the gum line. With this, it could be more likely to generate bacterial plaque.

In the dentist’s office, a tool similar to toothpicks is used, with the great difference that the specialist applies the correct pressure and technique to remove residue effectively and safely.

Risk of splintering

Remember that wooden toothpicks can be fragile and can break very easily. By applying too much pressure inside your mouth, you can break the toothpick and leave a splinter in your gum, causing considerable damage that, as we mentioned, can lead to infection.

Wood splinters in the gums are a problem that concerns oral health experts. If you used a toothpick and a splinter was left in your gum, carefully remove it using dental floss, do not try to insert another sharp object as this could make the problem worse. If you can’t get the splinter out and the gum looks swollen and painful, see your dentist as soon as possible.

Receding gums

If you use toothpicks every day by keeping some in your office drawer to clean your teeth after eating, and use them as a replacement for tooth brushing, you are at risk of gingival recession.

If it is common for food debris to get stuck between the teeth and you do not use the correct brushing technique, the gums can begin to recede causing the teeth to look too long, asymmetrical, uneven, discolored and they could even fall out.

So, what can I do?

Avoid using wooden toothpicks, even if only rarely. If you work and you have to eat on the street or in the office, take a travel toothbrush and dental floss with you to have proper hygiene after eating.

If you go out to eat occasionally, you can drink plain water to rinse your teeth and help remove acid from your mouth.

At home, calmly, you can use an interdental brush and dental floss with which you can correctly remove food remains without the risk of infections, damage to the gums or bacterial plaque accumulation.

See your dentist if you notice symptoms such as tooth sensitivity, swollen or bleeding gums while brushing, bad breath, that your teeth look longer, or if you have hardened plaque on your teeth (tartar) that you cannot remove with common brushing.

Write to us through our contact form and schedule your appointment at The Dental District. We are a dental clinic in Tijuana where we will gladly assist you and help you have good oral health.

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