To Use a Toothpick or Not?

A good friend of mine is a home nurse for patients who need drip antibiotics as continued care after release from the hospital.  She commented that when she sees patients at home who continually fight infections that, oddly enough, there is a toothpick at the side of the bed. Her thought is that regular picking of the teeth can help to push bacteria into the bloodstream. I wonder how many patients are reusing the same toothpick which can provide a growing source of bacteria right on the pick. I did not find any data or studies addressing this on the internet, but conceptually I can see how this could really be a problem for the health challenged population.

The downside for using a toothpick is when the gum is pushed in between the gum with extra force. This can damage the soft tissue between the teeth, called the papilla. The result can be recession of the gums around the teeth. Also, people can get splinters stuck in their gum which can be difficult to get out.

The biggest and most severe problem is if you swallow your toothpick. The end result is that you can get an infection in the place where the toothpick lands. This result is potentially life threatening and may need surgery to retrieve the stick! You may think that it’s impossible to swallow a toothpick, but there are a lot of reported cases of this happening. Toothpicks are frequently used to tie food together when cooking and are not always found prior to dining. And you get just lose your grip on the pick and … oops!

I do recommend using dental floss or the smooth floss picks to clean GENTLY between the teeth. Since a toothbrush will not get between your teeth which is where most periodontal disease occurs, we have to use something.   And we don’t want you to swallow floss picks, of course. But it’s less likely to have the side effects that a splinter of wood would have.