Food stuck between your teeth? No big deal, or is it? Just a meal for later maybe?

Click HERE if you want some ideas on how to get the food OUT.  Read below for some info on how to permanently fix the problem.

This week (and every week really) I see a lot of people that get food stuck between their teeth. For a lot of people it is a great reminder to floss regularly (at least that is what they tell me). Most don't think it is a big deal and don't want to fix the cause of the problem. They are ok to live with it. For a long time I had a spot where food was getting stuck between my teeth every time I ate meat.  I LOVE meat!!  It was very common for the area to become a little bit achy and sensitive to pressure. It would bleed every time I flossed (not a good thing).  I let it annoy me for almost a year.


I remember one time my wife and I had been to dinner and were just getting into a great movie. The pain from the meat stuck between my teeth was getting very intense. I didn't have any dental floss on me, the only thing I could see to use was the straw from the drink I had purchased at the movie theater.  I started digging between my teeth like crazy with that straw, but I just couldn't get that meat out. Finally I left the movie and went to the bathroom to use the mirror.  I was still not getting that chunk out of there.  My wife texted me, "where are you, what is going on?".  I texted back the details of my predicament.  Luckily she had some floss in her purse (the things found in purses still amaze me), she came to the bathroom and, with the floss, I was able to get that chunk of meat out. 


After that I asked a friend of mine to fix the problem. After a quick filling I feel great.  I wish I would have fixed the problem long before I had to suffer so needlessly.  


So now comes the question, "Is it a big deal to have a spot where food gets stuck between your teeth?".  You all know I am going to say yes. YES!  Every time you get food stuck between your teeth it can cause multiple dental problems.  Bacteria that live in our mouths can take that food and use it as fuel to multiply. As they multiply they can invade the gums and tissue around the teeth. Eventually they may even make it to the bone under the gums. More often as they get near the bone, the bone pulls away (periodontal disease bone loss). The bacteria may also invade the tooth (decay or cavity). More often BOTH happen.  Even if you clean out that food with floss or a toothpick there are still small remnants of food present. Bacteria are just little guys, they don't need much fuel to get excited. 


So why do we get food stuck between our teeth?

1. A cracked tooth or cavity between the teeth that caused a small space to form between the teeth.

-Usually easily fixed with a filling if small, or a crown if not so small

2. A filling or crown that doesn't have contact with the tooth adjacent to it. A filling or crown with an overhanging portion that sticks out and grabs food.

-If you get a crown or a filling and you start to trap food you need to go back to the dentist and tell him/her something is wrong. Sometimes the dentist didn't get the filling tight enough to the adjacent tooth, sometimes there is some excess material that needs to be trimmed properly, or sometimes the cavity is too big for a filling and really needs a crown to properly close the space. These things happen, even to the best dentist. 

3. Receeded gums that caused spaces to be opened up between the root surfaces.

-This is a tough one, on this one a good tool is the proxy brush.  It's a little Christmas tree looking brush that can get in between the teeth and clean better than floss or a toothpick.

4. Teeth that have moved for one reason or another. 

-Most common reason for teeth moving is periodontal disease that have allowed the teeth to be loose.

A few case study's

Food Stuck between teeth
Gap between two fillings

On the upper right of this x-ray you can see there are two fillings that just don't quite touch. That little gap between the fillings is the perfect space for food to get "jammed" in between the fillings. The red arrow shows the gap where the fillings/teeth do not touch. The yellow arrows show where cavities are creeping in under the fillings. We ended up replacing both of these fillings with proper contour to prevent food from lodging in between the teeth.  The ultimate test is to floss the area and make sure the floss "snaps" through.  If it passes through without snapping there is a potential problem. This one at this point is the fault of the dentist that placed those fillings (Not me here, these two fillings belong to another dentist).

Decay New Crown
Cavity under a crown

This gentleman came in for a routine cleaning and exam.  When I told him he had a cavity on the root surface of his tooth, under his crown, he was very surprised.  Honestly, he was very upset.  He said, "let me ask you something.  How can I get a cavity on that tooth when it already has a crown on it?"  That's a great question. Crowns aren't cheap (at least the good ones aren't) and nobody wants to pay to crown a tooth twice.  


Well here's why. If you look at the lower right of the x-ray you can see the yellow arrow pointing to the cavity.  The red circle is the reason.  The filling on the tooth in front of the crown is broken and chipped.  That broken spot is causing food to get stuck between the teeth, that food caused the tooth to decay under the crown. We removed the old crown and the decay was more extensive than even appeared on the x-ray.  Had we waited any longer the patient may have needed a root canal in addition to a new crown. 

We do crowns that last
Gap between crowns

This patient is a nice older lady.  She has a couple of problems in this area. The yellow arrow shows the gap between the two crowns. I looked in there and found 2.5 meals stowed away for future consumption. Her gums were bleeding and swollen.  She claimed she had no problems with the area. The second problem is highlighted by the green line. It shows a poorly fitting crown on that molar.  The edge of the crown is grabbing food and packing it in between the teeth. This crown was placed years ago by a dentist that was trying to give this patient a temporary fix for a broken tooth. It is a stainless steel crown similar to those used on little kids.  They are only meant to be placed for a few months on adults.  This one has been here for many many years. Now she has a very deep cavity on the molar AND on the tooth in front of the molar. Now she needs two new crowns. Look at the crown above the red circle.  It is a beautiful crown that was done properly.  It is going strong and should continue to do great for a long time. 


Well, this is getting longer than I anticipated.  Here is the summary, if you are getting food stuck between your teeth you need to tell  your dentist. He or She can help you fix the problem or prevent any future problems.  Just a note, every case posted above is a case I saw in the last 2 days, and I could have posted more. This stuff happens all the time to a lot of normal people. 


If you can't get in to see your dentist right away here are some tips:

1. Keep that area flossed.  Don't let food sit in there, you will need to floss right after each meal. Be careful with toothpicks.  They can do more harm than good.

2. Brush some Listerine into the area each night before going to bed. Dip your tooth brush into some listerine and brush your gums where you get the food stuck. Rinsing alone won't be enough. It just doesn't get in there deep enough. 

Write a comment

Comments: 35
  • #1

    Alex G (Friday, 19 February 2016 08:23)

    Doc, thanks for posting this. My upper back molars on both sides have shifted over time due to teeth grinding, causing a gap to develop where food constantly gets stuck. My dentist has provided me with a bite guard, and I am getting fillings between the teeth next week. This really helped me understand what's going on. - Alex in Cleveland, OH

  • #2

    Joyce Sanford (Thursday, 12 May 2016 05:18)

    This was very helpful! Thank you for marking up the xray s so readers could visually understand.

  • #3

    Brad Strong (Thursday, 12 May 2016 11:34)

    You're welcome Alex and Joyce. Glad to help.

  • #4

    Heather (Friday, 10 June 2016 15:13)

    Dr. Strong, I have a crowned tooth that has a gap between the adjacent tooth, but it seems like the gap is only on the inside of the teeth (tongue side). This gap has bothered me ever since the crown was put on. I have had a filling put into the adjacent tooth to try to fix the problem and I have had the crown replaced. Because of this gap close to my tongue it plays with it constantly to try and remove food, which drives me crazy. Nothing has worked to fix the problem. I feel as though my dentist is fed up with it, so I saw another dentist and they said it looked fine. Should I seek out another dentist or go back to my dentist and try to get him to fix it again? This has been going on for 2 yrs.

  • #5

    Brad Strong (Friday, 10 June 2016 18:58)

    Heather, If food is getting trapped in there it does need to be fixed. Sometimes the adjacent tooth needs a crown too, sometimes the gap is too big to fix with a filling. I also know some dentists are better at closing spaces than others (with composite fillings) so take that in to consideration. No one wants 2 crowns (more $ for sure) if they don't absolutely need them.

  • #6

    Erwin Wu (Friday, 28 October 2016 08:31)

    Extremely helpful. Thanks doc.

  • #7

    terry (Saturday, 31 December 2016 22:02)

    Thanks for posting!! Glad to know that I'm not alone and that this is a normal easy routine situation to fix. I hate going to the dentist but I guess is more the "Fear of the Unknown". You've explained perfectly the various options. If you were near, I'd ring up for an appointment....Thanks again!

  • #8

    Rose (Friday, 10 February 2017 00:38)

    I just got a filling done and the contact s any resistance. the contact is weak. This is the second time this happens with the dentist working on my teeth. It is clear that creating good contact in a filling isn't / wasn't his best learning. The director got involved and created a slope on top on my tooth indicating the food will slide right off the tooth. I wondered if the director thought I was stupid to believe his slope would solve the poor contact. It did not and now I have a sharpness on top of the tooth he created...double problem.

  • #9

    Andrea (Wednesday, 22 March 2017 21:16)

    In my upper left back teeth, my dentist told me I have a space in between that last + second to last tooth. She said this is why food is getting stuck. I had pain in this gum between those two teeth and my dentist pulled some pieces of food out that were stuck and pushing into my gums. I've always taken excellent care of my teeth. It's been a few weeks since my last appointment; the pain had stopped, but it has come back again. I can feel tiny pieces of food getting stuck again and floss/mini brushes aren't helping. I've also been using my prescription mouthwash but I can't feel an improvement in pain. Right now, I just flossed and there is extremely intense pain in between these teeth. Even if I push on the teeth themselves a little, it hurts. I don't know what to do because my dentist is just telling me to keep flossing. I do everyday! I have to take some Advil for the pain but it's still throbbing. Any thoughts, doc?

  • #10

    Dr. Strong (Thursday, 23 March 2017 01:59)

    Hi Andrea, Sorry to hear about you situation. The only way to really fix it is to close the space. That can be done ideally with a small composite filling, or maybe one on each tooth. In the mean time make sure you are brushing the prescription mouthwash into the area, not just swishing with it. Some people like to put a bunch of mouthwash in their mouth and then put their toothbrush in there and brush into the area. Swishing often isn't enough, I tell all my patients that have gum problems they MUST brush their mouthwash into their gums. That goes for Listerine as well as Peridex. If you were my patient I would place a small (as small as possible) composite filling on one of your teeth and close the gap. Other options are a crown, or orthodontics to push the teeth together, maybe a great excuse to get braces and improve your smile.

  • #11

    Lori (Thursday, 18 May 2017 23:47)

    Dear Dr. I feel like I have sinue from a steak stuck in several of my teeth. My tongue keeps going there but it cuts my tongue trying to pull it out. Flossing isn't helping. The dentist can't see anything. It's been a month & now I feel that there is a jelly like substance in all my molars & my tongue keeps pulling it out & when I swallow I can feel little lumps but if I spit it out there is nothing. My tongue is raw & my dentist made me feel like I was crazy. I have an appt. with an ENT that said they would swab for an infection but was wondering if you had ever heard of this before. Thanks Lori

  • #12

    margaret heaphy (Sunday, 09 July 2017 20:43)

    I suffer the very same as LORI, it is driving me insane, have not been back to my dentist since he filled my tooth a few weeks ago, as i thought he would think i was mad, i keep flossing but no good at all, what can i do.

  • #13

    jim (Tuesday, 26 September 2017 04:01)

    Dear Dr Strong,
    Thank you for taking the time to post this response. It describes my problem exactly. I will take your advice and see my dentist immediately.

  • #14

    Sunflower (Monday, 30 October 2017 14:14)

    I wish I could go to you! You seem to know what you´re doing. But I´m too far away.
    Two years ago my (former) dentist "fixed" my tooth and afterward it hurt when food got stuck every time I ate. I went to him again to fix other teeth and told him and he opened it more or smth, so it didn't hurt. One year ago he "fixed" the same tooth again to make them touch each other. And I got the same problem again! Pain when food got stuck when eating. So for one year now I have been flossing after every meal. About a month ago I think a filling chipped when I was flossing. And now the hole is bigger, more difficult to floss (smells) and now it´s started to hurt when I floss because the tooth is exposed. I´m going to make an appointment with a different dentist and HOPE I won't need a root canal. I´m very annoyed and frustrated. I paid good money for those "fixes"! :(

  • #15

    dancer123 (Saturday, 13 January 2018 13:04)

    Hi there! I was wondering If anyone would be able to give me some advice on my current tooth situation. I had my braces taken off two years ago and I now wear a Hawley retainer. Recently, when I would wake up I would feel pain and pressure on my teeth. I think I have a bad habit of clenching down on my teeth during the night. Since I wear my retainer at night, it would hurt in the morning. Lately I have noticed a small gap in between my upper left molars. whenever I wear my retainer, the wire pushes in between the teeth and it feels a little painful. The same happens to the right side but more so on the left. Food tends to get stuck in between my molars on both sides and it is becoming annoying. I am scheduled to receive a new retainer due to a front tooth shifting over, but I was wondering how I would be able to fix the space. I am worried that the gap will become bigger and cause the rest of my teeth to shift, causing me to have to get braces again. Would getting a new filling be able to fix this? and would wearing the retainer still force a gap in my teeth if I get the new filling? I want to avoid having to get braces again but I really want my teeth to be straight and not hurt. when I went to my orthodontist about the space and the retainer, they said that there was a bend in the retainer and that they fixed it. But it is still doing what it did before. Sorry this is so long. Thankful for any advice! : )

  • #16

    Ana (Sunday, 28 January 2018 05:35)

    Thanks for the article

  • #17

    Britt (Tuesday, 30 January 2018 03:26)

    Does food stuck in teeth cause toothaches?

  • #18

    Rebz (Monday, 05 February 2018 14:12)

    Am having the tooth problem its a month now I think I need to see a dentist

  • #19

    jesus (Tuesday, 06 March 2018 07:25)

    In Dubai, after fillings and root canal, the clinic wanted me to crown 3 molars. Back in the Philippines were crowns are cheaper, the dentist with 29 years experience says I don't need crowns and and at 74 years old with complete set of teeth, I am ok and just have to keep flossing to remove food that always end up between my teeth in 3 places.

    What can you say about my situation Dr Strong. Thank you greatly.

  • #20

    Anna (Monday, 19 March 2018 01:01)

    Thank you!! I had a cavity between the teeth filled about 2 months ago and since then I have pain and lots of food that get stuck between the tooth. I went in about 3 weeks after it was filled and they did an xray and put some sensitivity paste on it and sent me away. So here I am 2 months later still with pain and flossing hunks of food out of that area several times a day. Im going back to them tommorrow and no one is going to send me away like im the crazy one!!

  • #21

    Melanie (Monday, 26 March 2018 14:03)

    Thank you! I had convinced myself I had periodontal disease (which would be especially upsetting as I'm pregnant) because the gums around a couple of my teeth have been extremely irritated and they've been trapping a lot of food when I floss (seems like there is more space, and I theorized periodontal pocket). Today my dentist told me it was only gingivitis caused by the food getting trapped because I didn't have enough contact between the teeth, not due to bone loss but due to a cavity in one case and a chipped filling in the other. I've still been a bit anxious and nervous about tomorrow's dental work (thinking, what if she is wrong? Especially since she hasn't taken x-rays to confirm it due to pregnancy, and so weird that two teeth so close together should both have issues). But your clear explanation and pictures give me some added peace.

  • #22

    Ruth (Friday, 06 April 2018 20:13)

    Dear doctor for almost 2 years l have been suffering from the sensation of food being stuck between my teeth. I have been to 4 different dentists and they say there is no visible signs of any food particles between my teeth. l have had my teeth cleaned professionally twice and it hasn't made a scrap of difference. l only have my own teeth on my bottom jaw and l feel like having these teeth removed to fix the problem. Can you please help me.

  • #23

    Ruth (Friday, 06 April 2018 20:42)

    Dear Doctor for almost 2 years l have been suffering from what feels like food particles being stuck between my lower teeth on my lower jaw . l have had my teeth professionally cleaned by 2 different dentists and they both claim there are no visible signs of anything between my teeth.l cannot see any food particles either but the sensation is so real, it bothers me immensely. Can you please help me.

  • #24

    Cynthia (Tuesday, 10 April 2018 22:48)

    Hi everyone I currently have porcelain crowns upper and lowers I’ve been having panic attacks when food gets stuck in between my middle crown my dentist hasnt been much help all she has been suggesting is pulling out the crown and tooth and replacing it with a denture . 6 months ago it came off and I had it re cemented and just today I had dinner felt good stuck used a toothpick and seen the tooth move. It’s still in tact I’m scared to touch it . Now I’m scared to even talk or eat. I’ve been messing with the tooth using my tounge hopefully whatever is stuck will fall out . I contacted the after hours line that my dentist has and I’ll be seeing her tomorrow but I’m just not at good faith she’s going to help

  • #25

    sweta raj (Tuesday, 29 May 2018 00:32)

    i am not feeling comfortable after restovation filling in the gap between upper last and second last teeth..material with which it is filled is not smooth due to which i feel uncomfortable and also suffering from headache...what should i do.. please help me

  • #26

    Sara (Saturday, 23 June 2018 20:10)

    Most of my teeth are extremely close. I floss after every meal when I can, but when dining out, i usually have food that is visible. Would multiple fillings be the answer?

  • #27

    Emily Joshua (Tuesday, 03 July 2018 04:33)

    Preventing tooth decay in the first step is the most important one because if you are able to save your teeth, you can save yourself from all the pain and payment you would have to pay to a <a href="">dentist</a>. Food also play an important role in your stopping tooth decay process.

  • #28

    Maria L (Sunday, 22 July 2018 03:02)

    Hello, this might seem a bit off from the topic of discussion, but I had a piece of food that was stuck between my teeth. I accidentally swallowed and it smelled horrible and putrid. Does anyone know if it’s dangerous? I don’t know what it was, if it was meat or chicken, or something else. I am afraid I could get food poisoning. Thank you.

  • #29

    Kehinde (Wednesday, 22 August 2018 05:23)

    Very helpful write up

  • #30

    Lois Karhinen (Monday, 01 April 2019 20:46)

    I've had this crown replaced at least 3 times and it's still a catch all, causes great pain and even more when I use floss - like a knife cutting into the gum. I have a water pick that helps a bit, but I'm constantly in pain and a small pearl-like lump is above the tooth area. Eating Romaine lettuce, which I love, is the biggest culprit, it seems. I've seen at least 3 different dentists and wonder if I should just get the tooth pulled (it's already had 2 root canals). It's close to the back left. Any ideas?

  • #31

    Alex (Tuesday, 18 June 2019 17:54)

    After getting braces to align my teeth, a gap seems to be have created. I keep getting food stuck every time I eat food and I told my dentist who says its cause I got braces and my teeth was slightly realigned. My dentist dismisses the problem by telling me to simply floss and use a waterpik daily and I do. However, if a gap is caused my braces, what would you say I should do.
    Thank you.

  • #32

    Mike Miloserdoff (Monday, 08 July 2019 01:37)

    Thanks for sharing you knowledge and thus developing patients that are educated. Over the past few years I've spent about $4,000 out of pocket to shape up my mouth, replaced crowns, one implant, etc., So ill be orally healthy going into age 60. Your stuck meat story hit the spot for me,. Meat gets stuck, and immediately bacteria comes into the area, and the pain intensity rapidly accelerates. The slanted flosser picks work for me. Just used two to pick out meat from a meal I just had. The painful dynamic of stuck food particles and bacteria feeding on it deserves good understanding for all, because the next stage is infection. Teeth are too great of importance to neglect. Good oral maintenance helps ensure that your teeth will last your lifetime �

  • #33

    Alex (Friday, 09 August 2019 19:47)

    I’m not alone, food gets caught in my teeth and never comes out. I’ve been to the dentist, I talk to my therapist lol, but seriously. I can brush all day I like the listerine on my toothbrush trick too. Some food particles get stuck in my throat and I throw up. My life is unmanageable help

  • #34

    sarah (Tuesday, 13 August 2019 19:18)

    I have just had a crown replaced on tooth #14 because it had very little contact with tooth #15 and food was packing in this space from the bottom between the 2 teeth. now my new crown on tooth #14 had good contact with tooth #15 at the bottom but on the other side that is next to tooth # 13 there is contact at the bottom but a much wider space above this contact between the teeth and food is coming in from the side. what should I do

  • #35

    Quynton (Wednesday, 04 December 2019 20:52)

    I was having a bad tooth ache the past two days and I went in there with a special tooth flosser thing and next thing I seen was a huge piece of meat after I took it out my mouth tasted rancid or rotten and now I know to floss regularly