To pick or not toothpick?

The dental profession has been in my blood for 20 years now and as far back as I can remember toothpicks have been a huge no no.

I confess I am for toothpicks and I will explain to you why I think they are acceptable.

Historically the toothpick is the oldest tooth cleaning instrument and through history it seems that even Neanderthals were using a toothpick like devices to dislodge last night’s catch from between their teeth. Most commonly toothpicks were made from wood but toothpicks made from silver, bronze and even bone have been found. At some stage toothpicks were even considered to be a fashionable item made from precious metals and stones.

Roll on a couple of centuries and the modern toothpick is as readily available as cutlery in a restaurant. (Read the history of the marketing of the modern toothpick. Genius!  http://www.slate.com/articles/business_and_tech/design/2007/10/stick_figure.single.html )

Now back to the debate. Dr Dental has cultured all dental professionals into the notion that toothpicks are evil little wooden stakes best used to skewer your canapes at a fancy social. Toothpicks are said to damage enamel and lacerate the gums. Wooden toothpicks may splinter and may become lodged in the gums or between teeth. Food debris may be pushed into the gum spaces. No one is contesting that aggressive toothpick can be dangerous!

Now the flipside. Absolutely nothing compares to using floss to remove debris and keep teeth clean in between but here is the challenge. Flossing is not something everyone does regularly. As dental professionals, we can preach and plead but we cannot change every single patient’s ingrained habits. We can only at best try to show the patient how cleaning in between their teeth is as beneficial as brushing and complement each other. Most people will tell us they hate flossing because their gums bleed (unless flossing violently, bleeding is usually caused by unhealthy gums to begin with or lack of regular flossing). The next problem is usually dexterity and access to back teeth.

So here is why I am for toothpicks. There is research that has been done that proves a person using toothpicks has less dental plaque than a person who does not use toothpicks. Therefore if a person is not willing to use floss (WHICH IS SUPERIOR) but uses or would use toothpicks, why not teach the person to use the toothpick correctly and encourage them to use toothpicks approved by dental professionals, not the run of the mill ones. Education is the key to everything.

Firstly visiting a dental professional for proper instruction is a great idea.

Here is what I advise:

  1. Try to use dental picks made out of plastic.
  2. Set a time when the toothpicks are used and do not rush.
  3. Use the toothpicks methodically starting from one side of the mouth to another, top jaw and bottom jaw.
  4. Be gentle.
  5. Do not force the toothpicks in-between the teeth. If there is too much resistance, floss may actually be necessary.
  6. Push the toothpick between the teeth at the tip of the gum and slide it up to the edge of the tooth as much as possible. Try and push the toothpick as straight as possible between the teeth. Any downward angulation could result in debris and plaque being pushed under the gums.
  7. Use a new/clean toothpick every time.
  8. Once a day should be sufficient unless there is something stuck between the teeth.

I believe cleaning between the teeth is better than not cleaning between the teeth at all.

Finally brushing twice a day, cleaning between your teeth at least once per day and regular dental hygiene appointments, are all vital steps in maintaining a healthy mouth.