“Don’t Pick Your Teeth!” Advice From Your Chandler Dentist

If you have something stuck in your teeth, think twice before reaching for a toothpick and jamming that wooden spike into your mouth. Teeth picking may seem like a quick fix, but this bad habit can destroy your dental health by causing the complications below.


Why You Need to Stop Picking Your Teeth

a close up photo of teeth examination

Put down the toothpick, or else:


1. It can lead to gum damage

Your gums are sensitive and can easily become irritated or infected from frequent picking. All that poking and prodding causes tiny tears in the gum tissue, providing entry points for oral bacteria. Before you know it, your gums are red, swollen, or even bleeding. In severe cases, constant toothpicking may lead to gum disease.


2. It can cause oral infections

Toothpicks commonly come in open boxes or cases, exposed to countless indoor and outdoor contaminants. Multiple microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses, could pile up on a toothpick’s surface during casual handling and storage. They are not sterile instruments by any clinical definition. Introducing such a potentially contaminated object deep into the oral cavity poses demonstrable health risks.

Medical experts advise against overusing toothpicks for this reason. The mouth nooks and crannies provide ideal habitats for microbial growth if introduced from an exogenous source. In particular, regular insertion of a non-sterile toothpick can deposit microbes into vulnerable gum tissues or between teeth and gums. Over time, this habit can contribute to painful infections like abscesses that form pockets of pus, or cellulitis that causes swelling. Bacterial infections like gingivitis and periodontitis can also develop and spread to the heart.


3. It can weaken enamel and cause erosion

Using toothpicks, pins, or fingernails to pick at teeth can scrape and scratch enamel – the shiny, white outer layer covering your teeth’s innermost tissues. Repeated picking and scraping causes microfractures in the enamel, weakening this protective barrier. The damage provides easy access for bacteria to reach the dentin and tooth pulp below, leading to painful decay and erosion. Moreover, enamel erosion makes teeth vulnerable to stains and temperature sensitivity.


4. It can stab your mouth tissues

Imagine eating at a restaurant. After your meal, you pick up and use a toothpick. Out of nowhere, the person seated behind you gets up and accidentally bumps into your chair, causing you to jab that sharp, wooden stick in your gums, tongue, inner cheeks, or worse, between teeth. Ouch! With enough pressure, a toothpick can even penetrate your inner to outer cheek. Again, ouch!

It’s easy to apply too much pressure and jab the pointed end into delicate tissue. Even light pressure, combined with an angled insertion, can cause a toothpick’s tip to pierce the inner cheek or bottom of your mouth. It can also splinter and break off inside your mouth, cutting and scratching delicate tissues.


5. It can push bacteria deeper into hard-to-reach areas

Toothpicks can push plaque and debris deeper between your teeth, making them more difficult to remove through routine brushing and flossing. These particles will become a hidden food source for bacteria, causing tooth decay, gum inflammation, and other oral health issues to arise.


6. It can create gaps between teeth

Picking your teeth can lead to dental misalignment over time. The repeated and often forceful act of inserting objects between teeth can disrupt their natural alignment and surrounding structures. This misalignment can manifest as spacing issues or changes in tooth position. Overlooking this habit’s impact may result in long-term orthodontic concerns, stressing the importance of adopting gentler oral hygiene practices.


7. It can damage crowns and fillings

Since regular toothpick use can wear away protective enamel, it can also dislodge crowns and fillings, causing pain and expensive dental repairs.


Toothpick Alternatives for Cleaning Between Teeth

a photo of a woman flossing her teeth

Instead of picking at your teeth with unsanitary and sharp objects, here are better options to clean between them:

  • Use dental floss: Flossing helps remove food particles and plaque that a toothbrush can’t reach. Floss at least once per day, preferably at night before bed. If flossing causes irritation, try waxed floss or interdental brushes instead.
  • Use interdental brushes: These small brushes come in various sizes to fit between teeth. Gently slide the brushes between teeth and brush along the side of each tooth and into the gum pocket. Rinse them with water after each use and get a replacement every few months.
  • Use a water flosser: This advanced oral hygiene tool blasts water between teeth to flush away debris between teeth and along the gumline. They effectively minimize gum inflammation and the early stages of gum disease.
  • Rinse with mouthwash: Swishing with mouthwash helps loosen particles between teeth and freshens breath. Look for an ADA-approved mouthrinse containing chlorine dioxide or cetylpyridinium chloride, which helps reduce plaque and gingivitis.


How to Use Toothpicks Safely (If You Really Need To)

If you have no immediate alternatives and something between your teeth keeps bothering you, the best way to avoid injuries from toothpicking is to use it as gently and carefully as possible. Apply light pressure, keeping the toothpick angled away from the gumline. Stop using it at the first sign of discomfort.


The Bottom Line: Put Down the Toothpick

Picking your teeth is not worth the risks. It may seem convenient, but the potential damage is far too significant. Those little bits of food are not worth experiencing gum disease, oral infections, enamel erosion, decay, pain, or bleeding from a serious injury. If convenience is the issue, you can always carry dental floss picks. They’re small, lightweight, and easy to stuff in your purse, pocket, or car.

The next time you reach for a toothpick, ask yourself, “Is a few seconds of satisfaction worth the expensive dental work and a lifetime of oral health issues? The choice is yours.


See a Top Dentist in Chandler, Arizona

Do you pick your teeth? If your gums appear red and swollen, or perhaps you bleed easily and have persistent bad breath, schedule a dental appointment with Dr. Shervin Rahimi. You may have an advanced condition like periodontal disease, which requires proper treatment to prevent tooth loss. As your local Chandler dentist, he can also recommend ongoing maintenance and prevention plans to keep your smile healthy and brilliant.