Stop using toothpicks to clean your teeth — here's what you should use instead

The toothpick is the oldest dental cleaning tool around. Fossils of 7,500-year-old teeth indicate that humans were using wooden sticks to clean their teeth well before the advent of toothbrushes. But today, there are better, safer options for removing pesky plaque and bacteria. Dentist and spokesperson with theAmerican Dental AssociationDr. Sally Cram explains why toothpicks may not be the best option. Following is a transcript of the video.

Sally Cram: The best analogy I give patients is, "Would you take a stick and poke it into your arm?" You wouldn't right? So why would you poke a stick into your gum? Toothpicks are okay for pushing out big chunks of food between your teeth. But in general, they don't take the place of floss or using some sort of interdental cleaner.

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You know, they're wood, they're sharp. I've had patients who have used toothpicks and gotten splinters in their gums and infections. So, also think about it, you know, your job when you're cleaning between your teeth with floss and when you're brushing your teeth is basically you're trying to get down under that little collar of gum tissue and remove the plaque and bacteria. That toothpick is a stiff stick, so to get down under the gum, you're going to irritate or possibly damage the gum and probably not be very successful.

So, I tell my patients the better thing to use in between teeth rather than a toothpick are, there are things that you can get on the market, floss picks or soft picks. They're a little plastic stick but they have a little rubber tip end on them that's much kinder, gentler, more flexible... will be able to get down under the gum, remove the plaque but not damage the gum tissue.

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Eggs 

Maybe you like yours over easy or fried to perfection, but no matter which style you're into, eggs are vitamin D-rich and actively help fight tooth decay. "Vitamin D prevents tooth decay because it promotes tooth development and stronger teeth are less susceptible to decay," explains Dr. Greg Gelfand, DDS. This is great news for breakfast sandwich lovers because eggs are also great for improving your eyesight.

Sweet potatoes 

If you're wondering how to prevent cavities during the holidays when food is loaded with extra sugar, try filling your plate up with vitamin A-packed sweet potatoes. "Vitamin A is vital for salivary function, which buffers the pH of your mouth, helping to prevent tooth decay," says Dr. Gelfand. Surprisingly, sweet potatoes also have even more potassium than bananas.

Salami

Salami is probably the last food you'd ever dream of when looking to fight oral issues, but one Australian dentist went on the record recently saying that vitamin K2, one of the lesser-known vitamins, is necessary for great dental health. Guess which foods are rich in K2? Cured meats, like salami, and soft cheese. Plus, an ounce of two of brie is a great way to add some flair to scrambled eggs, another K2-rich food.

Yogurt

Plain yogurt is loaded with calcium, vitamin D, and immunity-boosting probiotics, so you may not be surprised to find dairy on our list of tooth decay-fighters. However, you'll be excited to learn that yogurt has both mouth-healthy and gut-healthy properties, says Lawrence Fung, DDS, a cosmetic dentist and spokesperson for Hello Oral Care, a natural-focused dental hygiene company. "Since our teeth are made up of calcium, foods containing calcium are great at building up our teeth's enamel," he explains of how to prevent cavities. "To help increase the uptake of calcium in our teeth, foods that contain vitamin D, magnesium, and phosphorus can help as well."

Strawberries

Strawberries are naturally jam-packed with vitamin C, and it turns out that's a good thing for more than just revamping dull, dry skin. "Vitamin C will help with wound healing, thus giving your gums a boost," shares Dr. Fung.

Butter 

Does this seem crazy to you? Well, it should, because nobody ever considered butter healthy before finding out that it is a good source of that periodontal disease-fighting vitamin B12 (although the butter-might-be-healthy case is building). "Vitamin B12 is beneficial in reversing oral wounds like canker sores and promoting gum health," tells Catrise Austin, DDS, the self-proclaimed queen of smiles in New York City. "Decreased vitamin B intake may lead to the progression of mild gum infections like gingivitis, or advanced gum infections like periodontitis that commonly lead to tooth loss." You can also find B12 in soy, rice, and cheese, but butter sounds like a lot more fun, doesn't it?

Avocados

Did you really need another reason to have that second piece of avocado toast? Well, sure, avocados are calorie-burning powerhouses, but their high potassium levels also help prevent tooth decay. "Potassium is a mineral that helps strengthen and prevents the breakdown of bone," says Dr. Austin. A lack of potassium can be what causes tooth decay in some people, so it's important to fill up on this mineral.

Nuts

Load your salads and snack bowls up with walnuts, pistachios, and cashews because Jonathan Neman, DDS says phosphorous-rich nuts are great for protecting teeth. "Phosphorus-rich foods have been shown to protect tooth enamel and reduce the risk of cavities by making our saliva neutralize the acids." Here's to hoping this is a good excuse add more peanut butter to our smoothies.

Beans

Sure, beans are one of the best vegan protein sources, but did you know they're also great for your teeth thanks to their high phosphate content? "Your teeth are composed of calcium and phosphate, so these minerals must be present in order for the teeth to remineralize and remain strong," shares Krysta Manning, DDS, of Solstice Dental & Aesthetics in Louisville, Kentucky. You may want to add cheese to your beans, too (hello, burrito time). "Vitamin D, like that found in cheese and dairy products, can help your body to regulate calcium and phosphorous levels."

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