Eat, Drink & Be Merry…But Brush Often!
Nothing embodies the holidays like sharing treats with family and friends. From candy canes and sugar cookies to mulled wine and chai tea, the holidays are so delicious! They’re also potentially harmful to our teeth. With all the celebrating going on, treats are hard to avoid, so I’m offering you a few tips to keep your pearly whites shining bright.
Our teeth are the strongest element of the body, but they’re not impenetrable. Tooth enamel is still vulnerable to both sugar and acids. Hard, sticky, gooey candy, cookies and cakes are filled with sugar. Sodas, wine, coffee and tea are sugary and acidic. All these goodies can wreak havoc on our teeth enamel, causing decay and stains.
It’s the sticky, gooey sugary foods that are extra bad—especially yummy candies and treats surrounding us during the holidays. Taffy, caramels, candy canes and peanut brittle, for example, can pull fillings out, chip or break teeth, and can lead to cavities. Sodas, wine and coffee are acidic and can erode and dissolve tooth enamel, increasing the chance for stains and cavities.
But don’t say no to all the treats!
Make good choices
When you have a choice, choose soft treats that melt in your mouth, like chocolate. Yup. Those peanut butter cups have your name on them. Even better, make selections from the fresh fruit and veggie trays. Leafy, dark green veggies, carrots, apples, pears, red peppers and celery are great choices—colorful and festive. Or consider replacing high-risk treats (i.e. peanut brittle) with safer options, like smoothies or milkshakes. Those are just as yummy!
Think about what you’ll be drinking, too. While you might think white wine would be a better choice than red, it’s actually more acidic, more capable of etching enamel away, making the surface of your teeth rough and more easily stained (surprise!). Logically, you might think coffee is more acidic than tea. But the opposite is true. Black tea, especially, is high in tannic acid, so much harsher on your teeth than coffee—even more prone to staining them. Choose a dark roasted coffee, which actually stains less because when heat is applied to coffee beans, it breaks down the stain producing molecules, called polyphenols. Who would have thought?
Lastly, don’t chew on the ice. Good for cooling a drink, but ice is not good for teeth. It can damage enamel, and chip or break your beautiful pearly whites.
Tips to protect your teeth
For most of us with good oral hygiene, indulging in a few holiday treats in moderation is no big deal—in fact, most dentists encourage tasting and sampling. No harm in that! But, if you have a history of oral health problems, including cavities and fillings and other dental work, indulging in treats will probably take a bit more consideration.
- Brush and floss often: You know this. Brushing and flossing are the first lines of defense for a healthy mouth, especially during the holidays. Do it often.
- Cleanse often: When a toothbrush isn’t available, drinking or rinsing with water when you finish treats or drinks can make a big difference, immediately washing away some of the food particles and rinsing potential stains away.
- Carry a little mouthwash: Following a meal, take a swish to kill any lingering bacteria—and freshens your breath in case you find yourself standing under the mistletoe.
- Just add milk: If you’re a coffee or tea drinker, milk can dilute acids, so adding just a bit of milk or cream helps minimize staining.
- Chew gum: Sugarless gum with Xylitol fights the growth of bacteria and prevents cavities. It’s a great way to remove food particles, too. As a bonus, chewing gum is known to help reduce the calories that you might consume.
As with all indulgences, practice moderation and make good choices when it comes to those holiday treats. Be especially vigilant about dental hygiene throughout the day to remove trapped food and to wash away stain-causing ingredients. With just a little extra care, you can enjoy treats AND protect your teeth.