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When you crave a light, airy, and salty snack, the first thing that comes to mind might be popcorn.

Ordinarily, grabbing handfuls of buttery, delicious popcorn that comes from a bag, the microwave, or fresh out of a popping machine is deliciously simple. The one big exception is when you have braces.

When you have braces on your teeth, popcorn goes firmly on the list of foods you should avoid. That’s because full-hull popcorn can:

  • harm your teeth
  • scrape your gums
  • break your braces

Let’s dive into the reasons why you should avoid eating popcorn when you have braces and consider other options that you can eat.

The biggest reason why you should avoid eating popcorn when you have braces comes down to the hulls of the corn.

Popped corn hulls are the leftover parts of corn seeds, which get hard and stay in popcorn kernels after the popcorn is popped. These hulls can easily become trapped in between your braces and your teeth. They can also be very difficult to remove.

Because they can have sharp edges, popcorn hulls can press up against your gums when trapped under the wires of your braces. They can also be nearly transparent, making it hard for you to see them to remove them.

In general, yes, you should avoid all types of popcorn, though some are worse than others for people with braces. Coated popcorn (such as caramel popcorn), for example, can be a double whammy because the crunchy, sticky caramel can get caught in your braces just like the popcorn’s hulls.

Hull-less popcorn is made from smaller kernels of popcorn. It has fewer hulls inside, but no popcorn can really be 100 percent free from hulls.

Some people say that eating hull-less popcorn is a safe alternative that won’t get stuck in between your braces. Healthcare professionals don’t seem to agree on this. Also, there are no clinical studies yet to provide data on whether hull-less popcorn is safer for people with braces.

The truth is, you should probably leave this one up to your orthodontist. Feel free to ask for their thoughts on hull-less popcorn, and defer to their advice.

The good news is that there are plenty of other snack options for you if you have braces.

  • soft baked cookies, muffins, and baked goods
  • baked (not fried) potato chips
  • soft crackers
  • cheese slices
  • baked kale or carrot chips
  • veggie sticks
  • yogurt
  • strawberry, pear, banana, or other soft fruit slices
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • soft pretzels
  • soft chocolate

Try to choose nutritious options whenever you can when you have braces. A small 1997 study showed that having braces may impact your nutrient intake, so make sure you still get fiber and healthy carbohydrates (such as whole grains) when you have the chance.

Popcorn isn’t the only food that’s off the menu when you wear braces. There are some other foods that the American Dental Association says you should avoid, including:

  • celery and carrot sticks
  • nuts
  • fried potato chips
  • crispy french fries
  • hard candy
  • chewy candy
  • bagels
  • pizza crust
  • hard pretzels

If you have no choice but to eat hard foods, the recommendation is that you cut them into small pieces.

When you have braces and eat things that aren’t recommended, there are two main risks.

First, there is the risk of damaging your braces. Hard or crunchy foods can bend the wires of your braces. If hard food gets stuck between your braces and you bite down, your brackets may break off.

There is also an increased risk of tooth decay when you eat foods that aren’t recommended for people with braces.

Chewy and sticky foods can easily get trapped in between the wires of your braces, and can be very hard to remove. While these pieces of food are trapped, they can damage your tooth enamel. This can make tooth decay and cavities more likely.

It can feel limiting not to eat popcorn or some of your other favorite snacks during treatment with braces. However, following guidelines for what to eat will lead to the best outcome for your treatment, which will mean that you’ll be back to eating your favorite foods.