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Wood toothpicks
Oral B toothpicks
Bamboo toothpick
Curved metal toothpick (reusable)

A toothpick is a small thin stick of wood, plastic, bamboo, metal, bone or other substance with at least one and sometimes two pointed ends to insert between teeth to remove detritus, usually after a meal. Toothpicks are also used for festive occasions to hold or spear small appetizers (like cheese cubes or olives) or as a cocktail stick, and can be decorated with plastic frills or small paper umbrellas or flags.[1]


Known in all cultures, the toothpick is the oldest instrument for dental cleaning. Hominin remains from Dmanisi, Georgia, dated to about 1.8 million years ago, bear lesions indicating the repeated use of a “toothpick”.[2][3] A Neanderthal man's jawbone found in the Cova Foradà in Spain evidenced use of a toothpick to alleviate pain in his teeth caused by periodontal disease and dental wear.[4] Toothpicks made of bronze have been found as burial objects in prehistoric graves in Northern Italy and in the East Alps. In 1986, researchers in Florida discovered the 7500-year-old remains of ancient Native Americans and discovered small grooves between many of the molar teeth.[5] One of the researchers, Justin Martin of Concordia University Wisconsin, said, "The enamel on teeth is quite tough, so they must have used the probes quite rigorously to make the grooves."[5]

Materials and manufacture

There are delicate, artistic examples made of silver in antiquity, as well as from mastic wood with the Romans.

Plastic interdental piks designed to prevent gingivitis, and wooden flat toothpicks.

In the 17th century, toothpicks were luxury objects and like jewelry, were artfully stylized using precious metal and set with expensive stones.

In the Southern United States, the baculum (penis bone) of a raccoon, called a "coon rod",[a] was sometimes filed to a point for use as a toothpick.[6]

The first toothpick-manufacturing machine was developed in 1869, by Marc Signorello. Another was patented in 1872, by Silas Noble and J. P. Cooley.[7]

Wooden toothpicks are cut from birch wood. Logs are first spiral cut into thin sheets, which are then cut, chopped, milled and bleached (to lighten) into the individual toothpicks.[8] Nowadays other means of interdental cleaning are preferred such as dental floss, toothbrushes, and oral irrigators.


Dentists generally prefer floss to picks because of possible damages to oral health,[9] specifically to the gum, to tooth enamel (if chewed), to tooth roots (if the gum is pushed low enough). Picks may also damage veneers and crowns, have splinters, or be accidentally swallowed.[10]

A review of small-scale studies indicates that toothpicks and triangular woodsticks are similar in their ability to remove plaque.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Other nicknames are "Alabama toothpick", "Arkansas toothpick", "mountain man toothpick" and "Texas toothpick"


  1. ^ "The Marketing Genius Who Brought Us the Toothpick." Slate Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <>.
  2. ^ Margvelashvili, A.; Zollikofer, C. P. E.; Lordkipanidze, D.; Peltomaki, T.; Ponce de Leon, M. S. (22 October 2013). "Tooth wear and dentoalveolar remodeling are key factors of morphological variation in the Dmanisi mandibles". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 110 (43): 17278–17283. Bibcode:2013PNAS..11017278M. doi:10.1073/pnas.1316052110. PMC 3808665. PMID 24101504.
  3. ^ Hogenboom, Melissa (8 October 2013). "'Ancient humans' used toothpicks". BBC News. Retrieved 29 August 2021.
  4. ^ Lozano, Marina; Subirà, Maria Eulàlia; Aparicio, José; Lorenzo, Carlos; Gómez-Merino, Gala (2013). "Toothpicking and Periodontal Disease in a Neanderthal Specimen from Cova Foradà Site (Valencia, Spain)". PLOS ONE. 8 (10): e76852. Bibcode:2013PLoSO...876852L. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076852. PMC 3797767. PMID 24146934.
  5. ^ a b (AP) (06/22/1986). "Dentistry as practiced 5510 B.C.". Toronto Star.
  6. ^ Charlotte Collins Bond. "Coonrod: Arkansas Tooth-pick." Madison County GAGenWeb archives. 1998. (Reprinted) Retrieved 5 July 2023.
  7. ^ Mary Bellis. "History of the Toothbrush and Toothpaste". Money. Archived from the original on July 13, 2012.
  8. ^ How It's Made: "Toothpicks; acrylic bathtubs; helicopters; beer." The Discovery Channel.
  9. ^ "Does using toothpick dangerous to your teeth? | Northbrook Dentist Office". Archived from the original on 2020-07-29.
  10. ^ "But It's Just a Little Toothpick, How Threatening Can It Be". Northern Dental Design. 10 June 2021.
  11. ^ Ng, E; Lim, LP (1 June 2019). "An Overview of Different Interdental Cleaning Aids and Their Effectiveness". Dentistry Journal. 7 (2): 56. doi:10.3390/dj7020056. PMC 6630384. PMID 31159354.

External links

  • Media related to toothpicks at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of toothpick at Wiktionary
  • Video - how toothpicks are manufactured

Further reading