Pizza Burns, Popcorn Shrapnel, and Tortilla Chip Daggers: Soft Tissue Injuries in Your Mouth

Have you ever been so excited for your pizza that you just could not wait for it to cool down?  You are starving.   You cannot wait one more second.   So you take a big bite of piping hot pizza, only to feel the searing pain of a tomato sauce burn on the roof of your mouth instead of the simple gustatory satisfaction of bread, tomatoes, cheese and {insert your favorite topping here}.

Maybe Mexican food is your weakness.  The chips and salsa start calling your name as soon as you walk in the door.  You toss the whole chip with its twists and turns into your mouth, but when you bite down, a shard stabs into your gums.

At the movie theater, you eat hot, buttery popcorn by the giant handful.  When one shell of a kernel finds its way between your teeth, you spend the entire movie contorting your tongue to try to work it out and curse yourself for not carrying floss with you at all times.

Most everyone can relate to these slightly over-dramatized examples.  In some cases, the damage is very minor and only bothers you for an hour or two.  In other cases, the injury leads to a painful ulceration or a localized gum infection if not handled correctly.  Here is what you need to know about reducing your risk for these types of injuries and how to handle them when they inevitably happen.

How to Reduce the Risk of Injury

Slow down!  Many of these injuries happen because someone is eating too quickly, not allowing food to cool properly, or taking bites that are too large.  In order to lower your risk of these types of injuries, always wait for your food to cool to a manageable temperature.  Only take bites that are appropriate for your mouth, and chew slowly.  When teeth are aligned properly and chewing is performed at a normal rate, the anatomy of the mouth provides protection for the gum tissues, lips, cheeks and tongue as you chew.

How to Handle a Soft Tissue Injury

Keep your mouth as clean as possible!  The initial injury, whether it is a burn, laceration, or impacted food, can quickly progress to an inflammation or infection if not cleaned properly.  Our mouths are full of bacteria, and it is imperative to keep sores clean until they heal.  Gentle swishing of warm salt water or over-the-counter Peroxyl® mouthrinse can keep the injured site clean and promote rapid healing.

Use mild oral care products.  The injured site can be very tender and overly sensitive.  If you find that your normal mouthrinse and toothpaste cause a stinging or burning sensation to the injured area, you should switch to mild, hypoallergenic products like those made by Biotene.

Alter your diet.  Areas of ulceration or inflammation are easily irritated by very hot temperatures, very spicy foods, and acidic foods and beverages.  In order to keep the injured site as soothed as possible, you should avoid drinking hot coffee or tea.  Do not eat food that is extremely hot; allow it to cool down before taking a bite.  During the healing period, eat a mild diet that is not spicy or acidic.  Steer clear of foods high in tomato or citrus content until the area has resolved.

Avoid toothpicks.  If you feel that a popcorn kernel or other food debris is lodged between your teeth and gums, do not use a traditional wooden toothpick to attempt retrieval.  Ironically, we have removed more fragments of wooden toothpicks from patient’s gum tissues than popcorn kernels.  Only use dental floss or small interdental brushes (like a Proxabrush) to remove the embedded food particles.

Be careful when flossing.  It is possible to floss too aggressively and cause damage to your gum tissue.  When you floss with the intent to remove a popcorn kernel or other food particle, it is important to be gentle and monitor your progress.  Ideally, you want the floss to reach under the foreign body and pull it out.  If you feel that your flossing is actually pushing the material further into the gum tissue, stop immediately!

Come see us.  If you are unable to remove a piece of food or debris, it is important to see your dentist sooner rather than later.  The longer the irritant stays in place, the more likely it is to cause inflammation and can lead to infection.  If you have a painful burn or ulceration, we can prescribe a prescription mouthrinse and/or topical ointment to alleviate the painful symptoms and promote healing.

Have You Injured Yourself?

Call our office at 940-382-1750 to set up a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He will evaluate your injury and help you reduce its symptoms.

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