As a dental hygienist, I get many patients who come to see me with popcorn stuck between their teeth. Having popcorn stuck between the teeth or biting too hard on a kernel can lead to issues, but can a popcorn kernel cause an abscess?
A popcorn kernel stuck under the gumline can cause a gingival abscess, also called a periodontal abscess. If a popcorn kernel cracks the tooth enough to allow bacteria to enter the pulp chamber, it can cause the tooth’s nerve to become necrotic and cause an apical abscess.
In this post, I cover how popcorn kernels can cause issues in the mouth, including abscesses, pain, and tooth loss. I also touch on signs and symptoms, what to look for in your mouth, and if a popcorn kernel will come out of the gum on its own.
I also linked to the post I wrote about ten ways to remove popcorn from between your teeth or under the gumline!
Can a popcorn kernel cause an abscess?
If you have a popcorn kernel stuck in your gums, I advise you to book an appointment with your dental professional as soon as possible to check your gums, teeth and supporting structures in your mouth.
There are two different types of abscesses that a popcorn kernel can cause. Periapical abscess and gingival abscess (also called a periodontal abscess).
A periapical abscess forms at the tooth’s root tip due to an infection of the nerves and blood vessels inside the tooth. This type of abscess can form due to tooth decay, fractures, or injury to the tooth that causes the tooth to become infected.
Biting down on a popcorn kernel at the wrong angle and force can cause the tooth to fracture, leading to bacteria entering the pulp chamber and causing an infection.
It happened to me!
I love popcorn, and my weakness is sweet and salty popcorn. It is one of my favourite snacks.
When I was in my first year of dental hygiene school, I bit down on a popcorn kernel and caused a small microfracture in my tooth. Little did I know that it would cause me a lot of pain and cost me a lot of money.
The tiny micro-fracture was just enough to allow bacteria to enter into the middle of the tooth, where the pulp chamber houses all the nerves and blood vessels of the tooth. It caused the tooth to become infected and the nerve to become necrotic. I was in so much pain.
Over $2000 and an emergency trip to the dentist later, I had a root canal and a crown on my tooth.
Even though this happened to me, I still eat popcorn, but I am cautious, sifting through the popcorn to avoid accidentally crunching on a kernel.
A gingival (periodontal) abscess can form when the popcorn kernel or a piece of it gets impacted underneath the gum line and is not removed.
The popcorn does not dissolve under the gum line, and our body cannot break it down.
Our immune system will start to attack the “intruder” and begin to send more blood to the area to try and remove it. This leads to a significant increase of white blood cells, and pus and infection will occur around the popcorn, creating the gingival (periodontal) abscess.
Ideally, the popcorn kernel can be removed before the infection begins. Flossing and brushing will help to remove the popcorn kernel from under the gumline and between the teeth.
But sometimes, flossing and brushing are not enough to get the popcorn out.
I wrote a post linked below about removing popcorn from between the teeth and under the gumline, including tips like tying a knot in floss and pulling it between your teeth to help dislodge the popcorn kernel. It includes all the information I give to my patients.
But again, please see a dental professional if you have popcorn stuck and are showing any signs of inflammation (redness, swelling, pus). It is imperative to catch these issues early because leaving it too long can lead to tissue destruction.
Can a popcorn kernel cause tooth pain?
A popcorn kernel can cause tooth pain if it gets lodged between teeth, putting pressure on the teeth and surrounding tooth ligaments and bone. Biting on a hard kernel can crack, chip and break teeth, leaving the tooth susceptible to sensitivity, decay, or infection, causing an abscess.
Tooth pain is horrible. When I had an infection from cracking a tooth by eating popcorn, I couldn’t sleep, and the pain was not affected much by the medication I was taking.
If you are experiencing tooth pain, please see a dental professional. They may want to take x-rays to rule out any root fractures, infections or other tooth ailments.
Will a popcorn kernel come out of gums?
A popcorn kernel can come out of the gums on its own or through regular oral hygiene routines such as flossing, brushing, or using a Waterpik. However, it can get stuck and become impacted, requiring a dental professional to remove it.
The post linked below that I wrote will give you some tips on proper floss technique that can help remove the popcorn.
The popcorn kernel or hull will not dissolve on its own, and because of its shape, it easily fits between gums and teeth and can suction to the side of the tooth, making it more difficult to remove.
I hope this information has helped you and that you don’t have too much trouble eating popcorn!