A stray popcorn kernel nearly cost a 41-year-old UK man his life last year, by sparking a heart infection that required major surgery to fix.
His medical team believes that by attempting to remove the offending food item from his teeth with a variety of DIY dentistry items – including a tooth pick, a pen lid, a piece of wire, and a nail – firefighter Adam Martin gave himself an infection that damaged his heart valves.
Two heavy-duty surgeries later, Martin is on the road to recovery with a new heart valve. But he and his wife want us all to take a lesson away from this story.
We've all been where he was. Chomping on popcorn by the handful, one tiny fragment worms its way into a crevice between molars. And so begin hours of tongue-swishing, finger-poking, tooth-brushing, mouthwash-swirling…
Unfortunately, it doesn't take much probing to open a capillary or two. Our gums are delicate tissues packed full of blood vessels just begging to be scratched open, giving pathogens an easy entrance to our body.
Consider that even the healthiest human mouth is home to at least 700 species of bacteria, many of which we know surprisingly little about. Introduce the foreign material that's attached to the business end of a nail or pen lid, and you're just asking for trouble.
Most microscopic organisms that manage to get past our outer defences will still face an immune response. But those that can outwit a skirmish of white blood cells have an easy trip around the body's circulatory system.