Is it safe to use a toothpick to remove food stuck between my teeth after a meal?
“I do floss after every meal and brush my teeth twice a day. My flat mate keeps telling me it not safe to use toothpicks but he is not a dentist!”
– Question from Natalie of Mt Gravatt, Brisbane
Dr Darryl Marsh replies:
There may be a better solution than a toothpick
There were some cleaners, which were produced as an alternative to floss called ‘Interdents’. Also known as Interdental cleaning sticks, these were very soft sticks like balsa wood that were recommended by dentists. They are not recommended anymore, simply because there are products on the market now that will do a better job of removing food stuck between the teeth, such as floss or interdental brushes.
If you do it gently then toothpicks are OK but there are better things, such as floss to get food out.
Naturally the greater the frequency with which you use a toothpick, then the greater the chance of damaging your gums. However, if you are regularly getting food caught in between your teeth then you really need to check with your dentist as to why this might be. It really isn’t healthy to regularly get food stuck in between your teeth.
Getting food stuck in between your teeth often?
The possible reasons for getting food stuck in between your teeth on a regular basis could be: fillings that aren’t shaped properly, teeth that have shifted or even a hole in a tooth that is allowing food to get jammed in there. If these problems, particularly the last one, are not rectified then they can lead to greater problems such as decay on the root of teeth and that can progress really quickly.
If you do use toothpicks often then your dentist will also be able to check if you are causing any damage to your gums.
Personally, toothpicks are my least favoured way of cleaning food stuck between teeth – the best solution for cleaning in between your teeth is floss or an interdental brush.
Best practice flossing techniques
This is a great opportunity to recap on the best way to floss your teeth. Wrap the floss around your index fingers and slide it gently between the teeth.
Once the floss is in between your teeth it is important to pull the floss against the side of each tooth. Rather than a straight up and down movement you want to wrap the floss around the tooth towards the front of the mouth and slide it up and down 3-4 times. Go as deep as you can under the gum as you can without hurting yourself all the way up to where the tooth makes contact with the adjoining tooth.
I recommend flossing daily at a minimum – twice a day is even better. The interdental brushes are something that your dentist can show you and tell you which size will best fit your mouth.
Although you can buy them completely at your Pharmacy or Chemist, we will tell our patients which size is best for them, give them one to try for which they can then get the refills from their local Pharmacy.