'Posh' popcorn explosion behind rise in chipped teeth

Nick Stewart
An explosion of

For decades boiled sweets were number one on the list of foods dentists demonized as damaging to our teeth.

But for the first time they have been supplanted by a Trojan horse masquerading as a healthy alternative to sweets and crisps. 

The number of popcorn-related problems hitting dental surgeries has doubled over the past three years, from around five percent of cases to one in ten. 

An explosion of "posh popcorn" has lead to the number of tooth injuries directly caused by the snack eclipsing those of other serial offenders like hard-boiled sweets and fudge or caramel, they told the Sunday Telegraph

It comes as a growing number of Brits are swapping "fatty" crisps for upmarket popcorn, which is perceived as a more virtuous option, causing supermarket sales to double over the past five years to £104 million this year. Meanwhile crisp sales are on a steady decline. 

By munching on popcorn consumers are risking broken and cracked teeth thanks to rogue kernels lurking at the bottom of packs. 

In addition small pieces commonly get trapped between teeth, which are near impossible to dislodge by simply brushing or flossing.

Dentists say popcorn is now responsible for more chipped teeth than boiled sweets.  Credit: ViewStock

Worse still, professionals say, are the wafer thin but remarkably robust "husks" which have a habit of getting below the gum line and causing severe inflammation and in some cases abscesses.

If left untreated for long enough, gum disease, bone and even tooth loss can all become realities. 

Dr. Mark Hughes, a senior partner at the Harley Street Dental Group said he had seen the number of popcorn-related incidents rise exponentially since he started practicing. 

He said: "In my twenty five years as a dentist, popcorn is easily among the top five reasons for broken teeth. Five years ago I would perhaps see one case of a broken tooth in twenty caused by popcorn but in the last two or three years, that has risen to one in ten and the number is only going up."   

Dental advice | from Public Health England

Dr. Hughes's voice was echoed by Dr. Uchenna Okoye, clinical director at the London Smiling Dental Group and the official dentist for Channel 4's popular make-over program "10 Years Younger".

She highlighted the absent-minded way in which we chew popcorn while watching a film as being dangerous, given our teeth can slip and bang together, causing fissures and fractures which often reveal themselves as an acute problem weeks or months after the event.

She went on to say that "hard-boiled sweets and toffees were the major cause of broken teeth and dental trauma but they have been overtaken by popcorn and the number of cases is increasing all the time now that it is such a popular snack." 

Despite the best efforts of producers, some uncooked kernels still make it onto shelves across the country. 

Earlier this year nutritionist Rob Hobson suffered a severely chipped front tooth as a result of inadvertently chewing on an uncooked kernel in a bag of own brand popcorn from a high street health food chain. 

The damage was significant and left Rob with a dentist bill for roughly £250 as well as a definite aversion to popcorn.

Another victim who fell foul of the popular snack is Megan Hare. She recently cracked one of her premolars after biting down on a hard kernel.

She said: "It was extremely embarrassing at the time as I was working as a full time healthcare assistant in a busy pharmacy, which involved talking to customers all day."

She visited the James Main Dental Partnership in Somerset where she was fitted with a dental implant, which costs anywhere between £1500 and £6000. 

The new wave of popcorn producers are not oblivious to the dental problems related to popcorn consumption, however. 

Popular brand Tyrrells said that while its packs did carry a warning for unpopped kernels, it uses a number of quality processes; including sifting as well as other "bespoke technology" to remove as many kernels as possible.

katie.morley@telegraph.co.uk

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