How to Manage Food Traps Between Your Teeth

Dr. Kyle Hornby

I'm Kyle Hornby and I am a Family Dentist in Kitchener-Waterloo. Each week, I tackle subjects to help raise the bar on dental health information available to the public. Today, I'm going to discuss food traps, how they allow food to accumulate between teeth, and the long-term damage they can cause.

Out of all the new patients we see each year, many acknowledge that food trapping between their teeth is one of their chief concerns. As you may know, food trapping between your teeth can cause an annoying and unpleasant pressure sensation. Clinically, food accumulation can fuel tooth decay as well as inflammation and gum disease.

So, how do "food traps" (the small gaps between teeth where food gets stuck) develop and what can be done to better manage them? How can we reduce or eliminate food and plaque accumulation between teeth to stave off cavities and gum disease? The answers are simpler than you might think.

What causes food traps?

A few things can cause a food trap. Some occur naturally while others are the result of dental treatment. Causes of food traps include:

  • Dental work that's not properly shaped. This is by far the most common cause of food traps. When a dental filling, dental crown or dental implant crown does not create a snug contact with it's neighbor, you have a site into which food can wedge and stagnate over time.
  • Bone loss due to gum disease. In an ideal situation, your gums fill the space between teeth entirely. If you lose jaw bone and gum tissue over time, you develop larger pockets that can trap food. Even if you have a proper, snug contact between two neighbouring teeth, you can still get food trapping in deep gum pockets if the jaw bone and gum loss is severe enough.
  • Naturally occurring gaps or spaces. Some people naturally have spaces or gaps between their adult teeth. These sites can potentially allow for trapping of fibrous foods like meats and vegetables.

What are the risks associated with food traps?

Plaque and carbohydrates accumulate on your teeth daily. They provide a fuel supply for harmful bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease. In comparison, food debris is much larger in scale. When it traps between teeth, it provides a much more abundant fuel supply for the same harmful bacteria.

Bacteria, flock to areas where resources are plentiful. They set up shop there and begin to multiply. A single food trap site can supply lots of fuel to harmful bacteria that, in turn, cause rapid damage to teeth and gums. Because of this, tooth decay resulting in cavities, and gum disease resulting in bone loss and gum recession can occur very rapidly at sites where food traps regularly.

The good news is that there are solutions for eliminating food traps. There are also strategies for managing food traps. Let's start with long-term management of existing food traps, first...

Managing food traps with the right tool belt

Most patients suffering from food impaction sites note that flossing doesn't always get the food out. If you think about it, floss is very fine and designed to remove small food and plaque particles from tiny spaces. It's not for removing large chunks of food from wedged tightly between teeth.

Because of this, flossing will often move the food around without removing it completely. So, you need something bigger in scale.

There are 2 options:

  • The Proxabrush. Commonly called the "Christmas Tree Brush", this brush is like a toothpick with bristles on it. You can easily access retentive areas to remove larger food debris. The proxa-brush is a great tool for quickly removing whatever accumulates at food trap sites.
  • The Monoject Syringe. Many people remember the plastic irrigating syringe they were given after their wisdom tooth extraction. Well, when you're battling what goes on at food trap sites, the Monoject Syringe packs serious power. You can use it to generate a high pressure stream of liquid that will displace any food wedged between your teeth.
  • A Waterpik. Waterpiks are great for rinsing and irrigating to remove plaque and food debris from hard to reach places.

Eliminating food traps with the right Dental Treatment

Most people won't want to replace a dental crown to close an open area that's trapping food. It's costly with respect to both time and money. Their reluctance makes complete sense.

However, when I present the option of augmenting existing dental fillings to close food trapping gaps, most patients jump at the opportunity to do so. It can be completed quickly and, in most case, insurance plans will cover the necessary dental work.

It is simple and predictable to add to dental fillings to improve tooth-tooth contacts and eliminate pesky food traps. If you have 3-4 food traps in your mouth (commonly between molars or premolars), closing the gaps will take about an hour.

If you're noticing food trapping between your teeth, let your Kitchener Dentist know about it to see if there's a simple solution for eliminating the problem.

Closing gaps that occur naturally

If you have naturally occurring spaces between your teeth, the most predictable way to close them is with orthodontic treatment. The two most common options for this are traditional braces and Invisalign. Because orthodontic treatment costs are extremely high (think $5,000 - $8,000), make sure that the benefit of closing spaces, eliminating food traps, and increasing the esthetics of your smile are worth it to you.

In some cases, you can close spaces with dental bonding or fillings but this often requires modification of healthy tooth structure to improve the "hold" of the bonding. Some patients elect to close gaps using cosmetic dental crowns that are slightly wider than their natural teeth. With a greater tooth width, the gaps disappear.

Managing food traps caused by Gum Disease

Above, I told you that gum and bone loss can lead to larger spaces around teeth. Instead of having your gums fill the space between teeth, patients with Periodontitis have deep gum pockets and gaps where food can settle and stagnate. As gum disease progresses, these spaces become larger, more food traps around teeth and the ensuing inflammation keeps gum disease active. It's a bit of a vicious cycle.

The best approach is to stop gum disease in its tracks. The way to do this is by identifying any root causes. The most common causes include poor oral hygiene and smoking. However, uncontrolled Diabetes can also be a contributing factor. In short, if you know what's triggering your gum disease, you can take measures to control it.

Once you stop the progression of gum disease, you'll still need to manage the larger spaces around your teeth. It's always a good idea to ask your Family Dentist if there are any dental treatments that can minimize large spaces and food impaction. Also, consider using some or all items in the home care tool belt outlined above. Bringing food and plaque out of larger spaces can be challenging using only traditional dental floss. Proxabrushes and irrigating devices (think Waterpik) work far more effectively.

If food is trapping between your teeth, ask your Kitchener-Waterloo Dentist why this might be happening. A good discussion will provide you with the answers you need to manage the root cause of any food traps that exist in your mouth.

Thanks for reading today's article.

By Dr. Kyle Hornby, Dentist in Kitchener, Ontario

Our Dentist Office in Kitchener is conveniently located Downtown. We are a short drive away for families in Waterloo, Breslau & St. Jacobs. Our central location means we truly offer family dentistry near you!

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Accordingly, always seek the advice of your Dentist or other healthcare providers regarding a dental condition or treatment.

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