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Father gets heart infection after getting popcorn stuck in his teeth

How getting popcorn stuck in my teeth almost KILLED me: Firefighter needs open heart surgery after using a metal NAIL to get it out ‘triggered a deadly blood infection’

  • Adam Martin, from Cornwall, developed the heart infection endocarditis
  • It can be caused by bacteria getting into the blood through the mouth or gums
  • Mr Martin tried to dislodge popcorn using a nail, a piece of wire and a pen lid 

A firefighter had to have open heart surgery because he got an infection after trying to fish popcorn out of his teeth with pieces of metal.

Adam Martin, 41, developed an infection of the heart called endocarditis which is caused by bacteria spreading through the bloodstream.

He had had a piece of popcorn stuck in his teeth for three days and used a pen lid, toothpick, piece of wire and even a metal nail to try and get it out.

But jamming the objects into his mouth then led to a gum infection which spread to his heart and left him fighting for his life.

Doctors managed to save him through an operation to remove an infected blood clot from his leg and another seven-hour surgery to replace a valve in his heart. 

Adam Martin, 41, developed a deadly infection just days after using various household objects to try and dislodge a piece of popcorn from his teeth

Mr Martin, who works as a firefighter in Cornwall, said he came down with a fever which left him seriously worried about his health. Hospital tests revealed he had an infection in his heart

‘I wasn’t far off death’s door and I am extremely lucky,’ said Mr Martin, from Coverack in Cornwall.

‘The popcorn stuck in my teeth is the only possible cause I can think of. I am never eating popcorn again that’s for sure.’

Mr Martin had developed endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the inner lining of the heart (the endocardium).

This can cause the heart to swell up and the valves to suffer serious damage and even destroy them completely.

Endocarditis, the illness Mr Martin suffered from, is caused by bacteria or infection spreading to the heart through the bloodstream from elsewhere in the body.

The NHS says that bacteria can enter the blood through the gums, especially if someone has bad oral hygiene, through small cuts.

And gum infections may also spread through the blood and trigger infection elsewhere in the body.

This could be because the gums are a weak point of entry for bacteria to get into the blood. They are closely connected to the whole body’s bloodstream and are easier to damage than skin, for example.

The link between the gums and the heart is already well-established and having gum disease is known to raise the risk of having a stroke or a heart attack because swelling in the mouth may reflect swelling in blood vessels elsewhere in the body. 

Source: NHS 

The NHS lists bacteria entering the blood through the mouth or a gum infection as some of the top causes of the illness.

And the metal nail, piece of wire and pen lid Mr Martin jammed into his gum to try and get the popcorn out may have triggered the reaction which nearly killed him.

The father-of-three had got the popcorn stuck in his teeth while watching a film at home with his wife, Helen, in September.

A week afterwards he developed night sweats, fatigue, headaches and eventually a heart murmur, which are all signs of infection.

He went to a doctor on October 7 and doctors diagnosed a mild heart murmur and sent him for blood tests and X-rays, which were uneventful.

Mr Martin was sent home with medication to recover under his own steam but, a few days later, he still had flu-like symptoms.

He also developed a blood blister on his toe – which was later diagnosed as a Janeway lesion, a sign of infective endocarditis.

Worried about his worsening condition, Mr Martin went to the Royal Cornwall Hospital on October 18. He was then diagnosed with endocarditis.

Although the popcorn didn’t cause Mr Martin’s illness, it may have been triggered by him damaging his gums with dirty items he used to try and get the food out of his teeth

Mr Martin developed a blood blister on his toe – later diagnosed as a Janeway lesion – which is a sign of infective endocarditis

He said: ‘I had a feeling there was something seriously wrong. I was sleeping an awful lot and I felt terrible.

‘I had aches and pains in my legs and I just did not feel right at all. I was admitted to hospital the same day for tests. By this point I was very worried.

‘I felt quite ill and I knew I was not right at all.’

A muscle ache in his leg turned out to be an infected clot wedged in his femoral artery, which required a five-hour operation to clear.

Meanwhile, Mr Martin was being treated with medication to fight the infection but chest scans revealed his heart had been severely damaged and would need an urgent operation.

He was transferred to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, about 80miles (129km) from his home, on October 21 and had seven hours of open heart surgery to replace his heart’s aortic valve and repair the mitral valve, which had been damaged by the infection.

Mr Martin is pictured with two of his children at the hospital in Plymouth, some 80 miles away from his home, where he was taken for his lifesaving surgery

It took around a month for Mr Martin to recover completely from his ordeal (pictured left and right in hospital). He said: ‘It all happened so quickly and it did get sketchy. I won’t be going near popcorn again, that’s for sure’

Mr Martin said: ‘My heart was not properly working anymore. It was essentially wrecked. The infection had eaten the valves away.

‘I should have just gone to the dentist in the first place. I don’t want anyone to go through what I have done.

‘It all happened so quickly and it did get sketchy. I won’t be going near popcorn again, that’s for sure.

‘It’s crazy to think all this happened because of that. It was something so trivial.’

Mr Martin made a quick recovery following surgery and returned home to his wife and three children Megan, 15, Holly, 14, and George, seven, at the end of October. 


Endocarditis is an infection of the heart’s inner lining and valves.

If untreated, it can lead to life-threatening heart failure. 

Endocarditis affects around one in every 30,000 people every year in the UK and four in 100,000 in the US. 

Symptoms often develop slowly over several weeks and can include:

  • Flu-like symptoms – tiredness, headache, chills, cough, sore throat
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pale skin
  • Aching muscles and joints

Endocarditis is usually caused by bacteria, which may enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart.

It is more common in people who have had heart-valve surgery, suffer from heart disease, are an IV drug user or have poor dental hygiene.

Treatment starts with IV antibiotics. 

Surgery may be required to repair heart damage.

Source: British Heart Foundation

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