By: Rosie Torres, R.D.H.
Picture this! You sit down on your comfy couch, with a favorite beverage in one hand and an overflowing bowl of hot fresh popcorn in the other. An exciting new television show or movie starts and you pop a handful into your mouth. When you bite down, you suddenly feel a sharp burst of pain in your teeth and then in your gums. YIKES!!! A popcorn hull has dived right in between your teeth and is now firmly wedged under your gums. You pick and poke, but nothing seems to dislodge this pesky invader!
Popcorn Hulls Can Be Dangerous
It’s a common scenario. But for one particular 41-year-old man in England, it led to open-heart surgery. In 2019, Adam Martin was eating popcorn and watching a movie when a popcorn hull got stuck in his teeth. Desperate to remove it, Adam picked and prodded at his gums with an assortment of household items like pen caps, toothpicks, a piece of wire and even (*cringe*) a metal nail.
Even with all the poking, Adam couldn’t remove the hull and developed a toothache. Soon after he developed flu-like symptoms. Finally he visited a doctor and got diagnosed with a heart murmur. He also developed a blood blister on his toe, called a “Janeway lesion.” This can be a sign of endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart. About a month after the popcorn incident, he was rushed to the hospital. He was diagnosed with endocarditis, which caused serious damage to his heart valves. This required 7-hour open-heart surgery to replace his damaged valves.
Adam’s situation is rare. But using random household items like nails, pen caps or wire to remove something from your gums can lead to other health risks. They harbor harmful bacteria that can seep into your bloodstream and cause your gums to bleed.
Instead, here are 3 ways to safely unstick the stuck!
1. Just Floss it!
The best way to get popcorn out of your teeth and gums is to floss. Don’t be too aggressive with the floss or you can push the popcorn hull down deeper into the gums. Use gentle motions, positioning the floss between the teeth where the popcorn is stuck. Start with one side of one of the teeth and make a “c-shape” around it using the floss. Move the floss back and forth gently and up and down. Reach all the way down to the gum line to massage your gums and loosen any debris. Repeat with the other side of the other tooth and then rinse your mouth out with water.
Hygienist Tip: I like to keep a travel-size floss dispenser or a couple of floss picks in my bag in case of any on-the-go sticky emergencies.
2. Brush it Out
Flossing is the best option, effectively reaching in between your teeth and gums. But you can also brush your teeth. To remove the popcorn hull, hold your brush at a 45-degree angle near the gumline. Use a gentle motion of brushing downwards from the base of your gums (if the popcorn is stuck on your upper teeth). Or upwards from the base of gums (if it is stuck on the lower teeth). The goal is to get the bristles to wiggle the popcorn out.
Hygienist Tip: Remember to brush for 2 minutes (30 seconds for each quadrant of your mouth). And at least twice (morning and night) per day. Also, remember to brush all 3 sides of the teeth: the outer surfaces, inner surfaces, and the chewing surfaces.
3. Saltwater Rinse it Away
If you have a Waterpik, use it on a low setting. Gently flush the popcorn hull out from underneath your gums. Otherwise, swish and rinse your mouth out with a warm saltwater mix to move the kernel out from underneath your gum tissue. As a last resort, use salt water to temporarily ease any gum irritation until you can visit your dentist.
Hygienist Tip: Mix a teaspoon of sea salt in a glass of warm water. Swish for 15 to 30 seconds and then spit out. Repeat the saltwater rinse 2 to 3 times per day. Don’t overdo it! Rinsing too much with saltwater can damage your enamel.