Dentists have long warned against the use of toothpicks, saying that they can cause serious damage to teeth and gums. But a new study has found that toothpicks are also a major source of mouth injuries.
The study, published in the journal Dental Traumatology, found that toothpicks are responsible for more than 4,000 mouth injuries every year in the United States.
Most of the injuries were cuts to the gums or tongue, but the study also found that toothpicks can cause fractures to teeth, and even puncture holes in the gums.
The study’s authors say that the findings should be a wake-up call for people who use toothpicks.
“Toothpicks are not harmless,” said lead author Dr. Bethany Valachi, an assistant professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of Florida College of Dentistry. “They’re sharp, they’re pointy, and they can cause a lot of damage.”
Valachi and her colleagues analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which tracks emergency room visits for product-related injuries.
They found that, from 2006 to 2016, there were more than 4,200 visits to the ER for toothpick-related injuries. The vast majority of those injured were adults, and most of the injuries happened at home.
The study found that the most common injuries were cuts to the gums or tongue. But toothpicks also caused fractures to teeth, and punctured holes in the gums.
In some cases, the damage was so severe that patients needed to have their teeth extracted.
“Toothpicks are not something to be played with,” Valachi said. “If you’re going to use them, use them with caution.”
The study’s authors say that the findings highlight the need for better education about the risks of using toothpicks.
“People need to be aware of the potential dangers of using toothpicks,” said study co-author Dr. Andreas Stavropoulos, an assistant professor of periodontics at the University of Florida College of Dentistry.
“There are safer and more effective ways to clean your teeth, and we would urge people to avoid using toothpicks.”