Is Popcorn Bad for Your Teeth?

Young Women Eating Popcorn at Movie Theater

Popcorn is a very popular snack. In fact, the Popcorn Board estimates that Americans eat 15 billion quarts of it every year, or 45 quarts per person. If you love popcorn, you've probably been frustrated by the hulls that sometimes get stuck in your teeth. These hulls can be annoying, but is popcorn bad for your teeth?

Oral Health Risks Linked to Popcorn

There are several potential oral health risks associated with snacking on popcorn:

  • Cracked Teeth

    Chewing on hard objects, such as unpopped popcorn kernels, can possible crack your teeth, as the American Association of Endodontists warns. If you crack your tooth, you may feel pain when you're chewing. Exposure to temperature extremes, such as consuming very hot or cold foods and drinks, could also make a cracked tooth hurt. The pain may come and go, so an absence of pain doesn't mean that the cracked tooth isn't a concern. Cracked teeth, unlike broken bones, can't heal on their own.
  • Damaged Restorations

    Popcorn kernels may also damage dental restorations, such as dental implants. A review published in the Journal of Oral Implantology suggests that regular popcorn consumption could contribute to the failure of dental implants. Biting unpopped kernels puts stress on the implant, and over time, the metal screw can weaken, loosen or break.
  • Gum Abscesses

    Abscesses, or gum boils, are another possible risk associated with snacking on popcorn, as the textbook Periodontology for the Dental Hygienist notes. If popcorn hulls get trapped beneath the gums, the tissue can become inflamed. If the popcorn hull remains in place, pus may become trapped within the gum tissue, resulting in an abscess. These abscesses look like shiny, red lumps on the gum tissue, and sometimes, you may see pus around the gumline.

Oral Care After Snacking on Popcorn

To remove debris from your teeth after enjoying a bowl of popcorn, remember to brush and floss. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush when brushing your teeth, along with a fluoride toothpaste. Floss gently between each of your teeth, taking care to clean under the gumline to remove any stray kernels.

Avoid using toothpicks and other sharp objects to attempt to remove kernels. The Mayo Clinic warns that using toothpicks could injure your gums. For help removing particularly stubborn debris, see your dentist.

Tooth-Friendly Snacks

Since there are some oral risks associated with eating popcorn, lovers of this snack may be curious about tooth-friendly alternatives. Other tasty, empty-calorie foods, such as cookies, cakes and chips, may seem better than popcorn since they don't have kernels that can get stuck in the teeth. However, these foods contain a lot of sugar, which feeds the oral bacteria that can cause tooth decay, as the American Dental Association (ADA) explains.

For optimum dental health, the ADA recommends reaching for healthier snacks. Fruits and vegetables are a tooth-healthy option because their high levels of water and fiber help to keep your teeth clean. Low-fat dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, may also benefit your teeth because of their high calcium content.

So, is popcorn bad for your teeth? Unfortunately, it isn't the most tooth-friendly snack. If you like eating popcorn, just remember to brush and floss your teeth afterward. And when possible, try to opt for tooth-healthy snacks instead.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tips for a Healthy Diet

  • Foods high in sugar are a particularly common cause of tooth decay. Making these foods a treat rather than a staple will help protect your teeth.

  • To maintain a balanced diet, eat a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups.

  • When choosing a snack, go for nutritious foods such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt or a piece of fruit.