While the rest of the world is worrying about their waist lines this holiday season, hopefully a few will be paying special attention to their teeth and dental health, as well. That’s right, give the gift of a bright, shining smile this season by providing your teeth with the attention they need amid all the sugar packed deserts and holiday treats.
Everything you eat and drink can potentially impact your smile. That is the bad news. The good news is you can counteract the wear and tear holiday nibbles by following common sense tips for your teeth to put you on the right path for maintaining proper oral hygiene into the new year.
Let’s Talk About Sugar
You know it is coming, so let’s get it out of the way. What is it about sugar that causes cavities? It is a more complex process than you might realize. The mouth is full of bacteria that work to break down food. When you eat sugar, the bacteria start to feast on it and metabolize it for energy.
Bacteria produce a sticky by-product as they break down sugar called plaque. That is the stuff you feel on your teeth when eat something sweet. It takes just minutes for the enamel on teeth to become coated with it. One specific bacterium, Streptococcus mutans, produces an acidic substance as it metabolizes sugar – lactic acid.
It is the S. mutans sticking to the plague as they break down the sugar that causes tooth decay. The lactic acid dissolves the calcium phosphate in tooth enamel to create a hole.
Let’s say you pick up a cookie off the desert tray and take a bite.
- Your body produces saliva to help dissolve the cookie.
- Bacteria metabolize the sugar, and combined with the saliva, create a glycoprotein that sticks to the enamel of your teeth – plaque
- S. mutans adhere to the plague and coat your teeth
- You take another bite, giving the S. mutans more sugar and they produce lactic acid that starts to wear down your tooth enamel
What Can You Do About Sugar?
No one expects you to give up deserts during the holidays, but you could limit your sweets. Avoid picking up candy out of the dish before dinner, for example, and pass on the day long candy cane marathon. When you do indulge, make sure to drink water as you eat. This will help rinse the teeth and reduce some of the plaque build up.
Choose your treats wisely, too. A piece of cake is a better option than candy, for example. Chocolate is primarily a simple sugar, so the bacteria break it down faster. Cake, on the other hand, has a number of complex carbohydrates that take more work.
Carry sugarless gum with you. This helps remove debris from the mouth and increases saliva production to wash away the sugar. Eating crunchy foods will have a similar effect, so add a few raw vegetables to your plate. Raw vegetables like carrots and celery also have fibers that brush your teeth while you eat them.
What Else To Avoid
Sweets are not the only holiday indulgence that can damage teeth. Festive drinks and wines are problematic, as well. Wine is acidic, so it will harm tooth enamel. Red wine will also stain your teeth. Limit your intake of sweet drinks and have a glass of water after each to rinse the mouth.
Be mindful of what you bite on, too. Your teeth are not tools to break open chestnuts, crack stubborn bottle tops, tear plastic or remove tape from gifts. Candy canes, caramel popcorn balls and other traditional holiday goodies may crack tooth enamel.
Tips for Your Teeth this Holiday Season
Good teeth and the holidays don’t have to be adversaries. Consider some tips to keep teeth their best no matter what.
- Brush thoroughly and often – Don’t get so caught up in the festivities that you forget to brush. Twice a day just like any other time of the year and make sure to floss, too.
- Start with clean teeth – One of the most practical times to brush is before you start nibbling. No reason to give bacteria a head start.
- Focus on good foods – Avoid beets, wine, coffee, black tea, cranberry juice and other staining foods. Pick up cleaning snacks and drinks instead like water, raw vegetables and fruit.
- Wait to brush – Don’t brush your teeth immediately after eating something sweet or drinking wine. This just spreads the bad stuff around. Wait a few minutes to allow saliva to clear the debris out before you brush.
Ask Santa for Some Dental Goodies
While you making up your wish list, consider asking for things to improve your dental health for the coming year. A water jet, or oral irrigator is a gift that keeps on giving, especially if you have problem teeth or braces. Make sure to follow the instructions for safe use and cleaning, though.
An electric toothbrush is another practice choice. It will provide more efficient brushing and deeper cleaning than a manual tooth brush. Ask for replacement brushes for the model electric tooth, as well.
Parents can drop a few essentials in stockings to improve their kid’s oral hygiene. Add a pack of sugarless gum, so kids have it to chew after they eat sweets. Extra dental floss is also a good choice, too. How about a variety of flavored flosses to inspire kids to get into the habit? Instead of candy, add some crunchy fruits.
The holidays don’t have to be a dental disaster. From drinking plenty of water to brushing at the right times, it just takes a few smart choices to keep your teeth healthy this holiday season and all year round.