Some people like to make a fashion statement by walking around with a toothpick dangling out of their mouth, but for most of us they just fulfill their intended purpose. We have all used them at sometime in our life time, but they can be dangerous not to mention disgusting.
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After a meal you often feel the need to pick up a toothpick and begin flicking, picking, pulling, bending, jamming, grabbing, scratching and scraping. All this is usually accompanied by various sucking sounds. Then, once the offending detritus is removed, the tiny pieces of out recent meal get swallowed.
According to an old 1984 report about 8,000 people are injured in the United States each year by toothpicks they swallowed or, worse yet, children under the age of 5 were found to be 20 times more likely than adults to suffer severe injuries because they tend to stick them in eyes and ears.
Researchers at the Centers of Disease Control in Atlanta, studied the toothpick problem and found an average of 8,176 toothpick-related injuries occurred in the United States each year from 1979 to 1982. Prior to the study it was believed that toothpicks were most likely to present a danger to adults wearing dentures, to the mentally incompetent, to alcohol users or to people with dulled mouth sensations, but that was not the case.
When you think about it, toothpicks are long, slender, hard, sharp and indigestible and as such, are rarely considered objects of potential injury and death. Most toothpicks that are accidentally swallowed pass harmlessly through the digestive tract but not always! Toothpicks that end up in the gut may not show up on conventional X-rays and often create vague symptoms, making detection difficult.
In one case a 63- year-old man died after swallowing a toothpick which then punctured his bowel. In another case a 51 year old fellow suffocated after he inhaled a toothpick. In yet another case a man ate stuffed cabbage held together with toothpicks. The toothpick worked its way into his liver and produced symptoms similar to those of AIDS. Fortunately, the cause was discovered and he recovered after surgery.
In one instance, a woman who accidentally swallowed a toothpick developed gut pain and fever, as well as nausea, vomiting and low blood pressure.. An ultrasound revealed the toothpick had lodged in her liver, causing an abscess and blood poisoning. The woman recovered after treatment with antibiotics and surgical removal of the toothpick.
As can be expected, toothpick manufacturers downplay the danger claiming injuries and deaths related to their product ''doesn't deserve the headlines.'' After all they say, use common sense. Used with care they won't damage our teeth, but care must be taken not to damage our gums, poke ourselves in the eye or ear or swallow them.