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Food getting stuck in the gums every time you eat can suck the joy out of mealtime. Why does it happen? Does it indicate the presence of gum disease or could there be other causes? We discuss the various possibilities and their solutions in this article.

Food getting stuck in the teeth or in the gums is one of the most common patient complaints that dentists come across. It can be extremely irritating for a patient to find some amount of food getting stuck every time a bite of food is taken. The reasons behind such a problem can be many and varied.

Let us take a look at the most common factors that cause food to be stuck in your gums.

Why Does Food get Stuck In The Gums?

The Presence of 'Pockets'

Gum disease can affect the teeth and its supporting structures in many ways [1]. One of the symptoms of gum disease is the development and progression of pockets around the teeth. Pockets are, as the name suggest, a deepening of the gingival sulcus around the tooth due to a destruction of the underlying bone [2], or if you prefer plain English, a "hole" around the teeth.

The end result is a loose gingival opening where food can get lodged. The amount of food getting stuck is not going shockingly big; rather than huge chunks of food, we are talking about small or trace amount which will nonetheless cause irritation, itching, and even some pain later on.

The micro-organisms which cause gum disease also colonize these pockets around the teeth. The presence of poor oral hygiene, food particles, and calculus makes the pocket an ideal environment for these bacteria to flourish [3].

Some of the symptoms that people with pockets around their teeth will notice include bleeding from the gums, bad breath, whitish sticky residue on the teeth, and of course food getting stuck while eating.

The treatment for pockets can be as simple as seeking bleeding gums treatment (scaling) or the patient may need periodontal surgery to eliminate all the micro-organisms from the pockets [4].

Gaps Between The Teeth

People can have spaces or gaps between their teeth since childhood, or some people may notice that dental gaps appear over a period of time. If the gaps have been around since childhood or since around the time at which the permanent teeth came in, then orthodontic treatment to close the gaps (that is, getting braces) is advisable.

If, however, the gaps have appeared later in life, then gum disease could be the culprit. The destruction of the supporting bone around the tooth is one of the most important features of advanced gum disease. It indicates that the problem has progressed from being limited to the gums (gingivitis) and is now spreading to periodontal structures around the tooth (periodontitis).

Once the damage around the bone is severe, the tooth cannot bear the full load of the normal chewing forces eating exposes it to. It then starts to migrate out of its normal position, leading to the development of spaces or gaps between the teeth. This process is called pathologic migration [5].

The treatment of gaps between the teeth caused by gum disease is difficult. Any tooth that is considered to have a hopeless prognosis has to be extracted. Scaling, root planing, and gum surgeries have to be performed in the remaining areas so that the disease process can be arrested and further migration of the teeth can be stopped [6].

The use of crowns and bridges may be necessary to fill up the gaps that have appeared between the teeth in more severe cases of periodontitis.

Erupting Wisdom Teeth

Another very common reason for food getting stuck in the mouth is due to the eruption of wisdom teeth in the mouth. The wisdom teeth or third molars are evolutionary remnants of our past. They do not serve any purpose in the mouths of modern humans, and are the most commonly extracted teeth [7].

Our jaw sizes have become smaller with evolution and there is simply not enough space for the wisdom teeth to erupt in the correct position for most people. As a result, the wisdom teeth tend to be half-erupted, or erupt in the wrong direction, or may not erupt at all.

The space between the wisdom teeth and the neighboring teeth is a very common area for food to get stuck. This food accumulation can be hard to spot since these teeth are harder to reach, and it easily leads to the decay of the wisdom teeth, inflammation in the area causing pain, and a difficulty in opening the mouth, or the development of an abscess around the wisdom teeth [8].

The treatment for this awkward wisdom teeth that harbor stuck food particles on a regular basis is pretty straightforward. Wisdom teeth that do not have space to completely erupt into the mouth or are in a position where keeping good oral hygiene is difficult for the patient must be extracted [9].

Decayed teeth

Another reason why food keeps getting stuck in the gums while eating is multiple decayed teeth in the mouth. This is also particularly true for teeth that have developed decay on the sides rather than the chewing surface.

As the decayed area of the tooth progresses and becomes larger, more and more food will start to get stuck in that area. The answer to this problem is relatively simple. Any areas of decay have to be treated with either fillings, root canals, or crowns [10].

Once the decayed parts of all the teeth have been taken care of, the food lodgment in the area should stop and automatically improve the gum health surround the teeth as well.

A final word

The cause of food getting stuck in the gums will sometimes be apparent to patients, while other times, you won't know why you have to face this awkward and disease-promoting situation on a daily basis. In either case, you will need dental treatment — so see your dentist for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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