Why Popcorn Is So Hard On Your Teeth?

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Medically reviewed by Othman Lahmaydi, RDH

Popcorn is certainly fun to eat, but it’s not so fun for your teeth. Popcorn pieces can easily get stuck between your teeth and cause a great deal of trouble. Unpopped kernels can also be a nightmare, if you happen to bite down on one. So if you can’t give up eating popcorn all together, you need to be prepared for the consequences. 

Popcorn kernel hulls can easily get lodged between your teeth and gums, potentially causing bacterial infection, accelerated tooth decay, and gum damage. Unpopped kernels may chip teeth. Eating slow enough to avoid kernels can help, and good brushing and flossing should remove most hull fragments.

Unfortunately, there are no precautions you can take to help prevent popcorn from getting stuck between your teeth. What you can do, however, is control the damage by safely removing stuck popcorn kernels from your teeth. We’ll review some of the best methods to try next time you’ve got to deal with a pesky kernel that doesn’t want to leave your mouth.  

Why Popcorn Is Hard On Your Teeth

Woman eating popcorn while watching movie

Popcorn is a favorite snack for many, but it’s also a significant cause of concern for dentists. This is evidenced by the many patients who show up with a popcorn-related issue. Let’s see why.

The most obvious danger is posed by unpopped kernels that hide stealthily among the popped ones. If you accidentally bite on one of these, it’s not only capable of cracking your tooth but also of permanently breaking it. The unexpected pressure of biting down on an unpopped kernel alone is enough to cause gum inflammation. 

But that is not all; you should also be wary of the fully popped kernels. Popcorn hulls (the thin shell covering the seed) are also a headache. While eating, they can easily become lodged in the space between your teeth and gums. They can also prove to be quite stubborn; removing them can be a real drag.

If a popcorn hull stays stuck between your teeth and gums, it can cause severe damage. With the hull stuck in your teeth, you run the risk of bone loss, decay, cavity, and something called a “popcorn abscess.” 

A popcorn abscess occurs when the popcorn hull stuck in your teeth stops the natural gum fluid from removing bacteria. This encourages bacterial growth and drains the gum, resulting in the formation of a “gum boil.” Apart from being very painful, it can also result in tooth loss.

A Worst-Case Popcorn Scenario

If you’re skeptical about the damage popcorn can do, just ask Adam Martin about his experience. In 2019, Martin saw a leisure movie night quickly escalate into a nightmare when a popcorn hull got stuck between his teeth and refused to budge.

Adam tried every tool at his disposal to remove the popcorn hull, including toothpicks, pen caps, wire, and a metal nail. But he couldn’t get it out.

Upon visiting the doctor, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur and, later, a blood blister, also called a “Janeway lesion,” appeared on his toe. These two developments were clear indications of his heart lining becoming inflamed.

A month later, he found himself rushing to the hospital and was diagnosed with “endocarditis,” an infection of the heart’s lining. The heart valves were seriously damaged, and he had to undergo seven hours of open-heart surgery to get the damaged valves replaced. 

As Adam’s example illustrates, it might be tempting to try and fix the problem of a stuck kernel or hull yourself. However, it is often highly unsafe to do so. 

Teeth and gums are two very sensitive parts of our bodies. They are particularly prone to bacteria and should not be prodded with random household items. Doing so can result in severe pain and distress. Therefore, knowing when to see a doctor is extremely important. 

If you suspect that your tooth has been damaged by biting onto an unpopped kernel, or you if you can’t seem to pry a popcorn hull out easily, you should book an appointment with your dentist immediately. 

How Do I Safely Remove Popcorn Kernels From My Teeth? 

Toothbrush and dental floss on a blue background

Safely removing popcorn kernels from your teeth requires patience and caution. It’s easy to fall into the vicious cycle of prodding and poking at the stuck popcorn kernel with anything and everything, but you must practice caution and steer clear of things that can worsen the situation. 

If you try removing the popcorn kernels the right way, you might even save yourself the trouble of visiting the dentist. The trick is to know what to do and when to stop.

Before you proceed to try to excavate the stuck popcorn hull in your mouth, you must first thoroughly rinse out your mouth with warm water and salt. This will loosen the popcorn hull, get rid of any other small food particles stuck in the spaces between your teeth, and have a calming effect on sore gums. 

No matter which of the following methods you choose for the attempted removal of a stuck hull, it’s crucial that you start with this important first step. It will reduce the risk of bacterial infection and save you from discomfort. Once you’ve done your rinse, try the following options:

Floss It Out

Dental floss is the most obvious choice when dealing with food particles that are stuck between your teeth. After having rinsed your mouth with warm saltwater, gently floss to remove the popcorn hull out of your teeth. 

Take a piece of floss and work it between all of your teeth to catch anything that might not be visible. Take extra care when flossing around the affected teeth. Gently move the floss in and out between the impacted teeth and press carefully against the popcorn hull. Next, glide the floss up to remove the popcorn hull.

If you don’t catch the stuck kernel in the first few attempts, do not continue flossing. You might get frustrated and end up exerting extra pressure, thereby pushing the kernel even further into the gum and causing damage to the gum tissues.

If flossing doesn’t work, you can move on to other methods, but remember try not to implement them all in immediate succession, so that you don’t hurt your gums in the process.

Brush It Off

Brushing stuck popcorn hulls out of your teeth is perhaps your best bet. Rinse your mouth with generous amounts of warm saltwater. Also, soak your toothbrush in warm salt water for a little while before using it.

Next, angle the bristles of your toothbrush downwards towards your gum line and move it in steady, circular motion. This might dislodge the popcorn hull and transfer it to the brush. It’s likely that you will not be successful the first time, so repeat multiple times, moving the brush in the same direction.

It is advised that you do not brush aggressively; doing so can make your gums bleed. 

Use a Toothpick

One alternative to dental floss is a toothpick, which is often readily available in most households. However, toothpicks are slightly trickier to use compared to floss. Poking erratically between your teeth with the sharp edge of the pick can do more harm than good, so you must be very careful when using it. 

Use the sharp end of a toothpick to poke at the wedged hull between your teeth. Push down when you locate the hull and move the toothpick upwards to get it out. If you don’t succeed the first couple of times, it’s best to stop and see a dentist.

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