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How Popcorn Can Cause Gum Abscesses

A bowl of popcorn

Popcorn can be a healthy snack. The puffy kernels are unprocessed whole grains containing plenty of fiber and antioxidants. Plus, popcorn is low in fat, calories, and sodium, as long as you don’t overload it with butter, oil, or salt. So, what’s not to like about this ideal snack? Ask your periodontist or dental hygienist that question, and they may reply with just two words: gum abscess. 

What is a Gum Abscess and What Causes Them to Form? 

A gum abscess is an accumulation of pus that can develop rapidly underneath the gum line. These pus-filled sacs form because of a bacterial infection, which can occur due to various reasons such as: 

  • Food particles (such as popcorn) or foreign objects getting stuck between the teeth and gums 
  • Untreated cavities 
  • Periodontal disease 
  • An injury or previous injury to your teeth or gums 
  • A weakened immune system 

If left untreated, this simmering bacterial infection can spread, which may result in severe discomfort, swelling, fever, inflammation, and/or tooth loss. 

How Can Popcorn Cause Abscesses and Other Damage to My Teeth? 

Why do these hulls — or husks —  tend to get trapped under the gums? A properly popped piece of popcorn has less of a hard shell, but the thin remains of the hull at the center of the piece seem to conform to the rounded shape of the tooth’s crown. It’s easy for them to slip into the tiny gaps between teeth and gums, which dentists call the sulcus or “pocket”. Once they are there, they can cause tooth and gum trouble if you don’t do anything about it. 

Also, simply biting popcorn from the wrong angle can get hulls stuck in your teeth or gums. Other than chewing softly, there’s not much you can do to avoid it.   

While popcorn hulls are frequently associated with gum abscesses, they aren’t the only thing that can cause them. Fingernail fragments from nail biting, wooden splinters from pencil chewing, and other foreign objects can result in the same problem. So if you think you may have a gum abscess, what should you do? 

How To Remove Popcorn From Your Gums 

Getting popcorn stuck in your gums can be an aggravating experience, especially if you try to remove it with your tongue or a toothpick. Instead, try these tips to get that pesky popcorn kernel out of your gums: 

  • Floss — Make gentle motions since you can push the popcorn down deeper into the gums if you’re too aggressive. Begin with one side of the tooth and form a C shape around it using your floss. Move it gently back and forth, as well as up and down. Loosen any debris, and then rinse your mouth out with water.  
  • Brush your teeth — Brushing your teeth can help, too. Hold your brush at a 45-degree angle and gently brush upwards and downwards and see if you can dislodge it. 
  • Rinse your mouth with salt water — Mix a teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water, swish it around in your mouth for 15-30 seconds, spit it out, and see if the hull dislodged. 

Getting the Care You Need 

Does this mean you should stop eating popcorn? Not necessarily, but be aware of this potential issue and pay attention to any unexplained pain in your gums, teeth, or jaw. What seems like a toothache might be an abscess starting to form. 

If you have a dental abscess, visit a dentist right away. While it may seem scary, an abscess often responds rapidly to treatment. X-rays and special dental instruments can be used to find and remove the source of the irritation, and draining fluid from the abscess generally eases the pain. Occasionally, antibiotics or other medications may be prescribed. 

If you don’t have dental insurance or are looking for an affordable alternative, consider a dental savings plan

With a dental savings plan, plan members can save 10-60% on most dental procedures. Give us a call at 1-833-735-0399 if you have any questions about how a dental savings plan can help you save money on treatment for a dental abscess, other serious dental conditions, or the routine care needed to maintain healthy teeth and gums. 

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