Popcorn is a popular snack food -- and a common item that gets stuck between teeth. Since popcorn pieces can cause gum irritation and damage, gentle and complete removal is important to avoid the risk of gum infection and tooth decay. Rinsing, flossing and brushing can usually remove food particles from teeth and gums, but when these don't work, or when the trapped popcorn causes severe pain or an infection, it's time to see a dental professional.
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Rinse and Swish
If you have popcorn stuck in between your teeth or under your gums, try rinsing vigorously with warm water. This water action may dislodge the popcorn particles. Using salt water, prepared by adding 1/2 teaspoon of salt to 8 ounces of warm water, can help calm gum swelling and irritation. Just be careful to not swallow the salty rinse. Alternatively, you may be able to flush out the popcorn pieces with a dental water jet. Keep the setting on low to avoid further irritation to gum tissue.
Brush and Floss
If swishing with water doesn't remove the popcorn, try brushing or flossing your teeth. If a hull is stuck underneath the gum tissue, try placing your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against the hull, and sweep it out with an upward brushing motion. When flossing, gently work the floss down between your teeth as far as it will go. Pull the floss tight against the tooth, making a "C" shape, and move it back and forth to dislodge the popcorn. Other tools used to clean between teeth -- such as soft picks or small interdental brushes -- can also dislodge the popcorn.
When to See Your Dentist
Don't use any sharp objects to remove the trapped popcorn, as these may injure your gum or cause damage to your teeth. If you are not able to remove the popcorn, or if you have severe pain, call your dental office. This type of situation happens frequently, so don't feel embarrassed. Your dentist can use a dental instrument to dislodge the popcorn.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD