When Marvin C. Stone patented the drinking straw in 1888, he probably did not expect that, years down the road, thousands of Americans would wind up in the hospital for various drinking straw-related injuries. That’s because Stone’s straws were made of spiral-wrapped paper rather than the hard plastics of modern drinking straws. In fact, in his patent application, Stone claimed that his paraffin-coated, manila paper straws were, “adapted for use in the human mouth without injury.”
The same cannot be said of today’s drinking straws. Whether bendy, straight, novelty, or jumbo, plastic drinking straws are involved in hundreds of accidents each year. The odds that a person will visit the emergency room for a drinking straw-related accident in a year are 1 in 100,600, somewhat more likely than the odds that a person will wind up in the ER in a year because of a mishap with a leaf blower. The odds of a leaf-blower emergency are 1 in 141,100.
The most common injuries associated with drinking straws are lacerations to the mouth, abrasions to the cornea, and insertions into the ear and nose. Most of the cases reported by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) involve young children. A common scenario involves an infant poking him or herself or a sibling in the eye with a drinking straw. Another involves a young child falling with a drinking straw in his or her mouth.
Despite these drinking straw dangers, recent research suggests that drinking straws can benefit the human mouth. According to a report from the journal General Dentistry, drinking sugary and acidic drinks like soda and fruit juice through a straw may reduce the risk of tooth decay by funneling liquid away from the teeth to the back of the mouth. This protects teeth’s enamel coating, minimizing the risk of cavities. And that’s a good thing, because the odds that a child between the ages of 2 and 11 has cavities in his or her primary teeth are 1 in 2.37.