Although it’s not as obvious as other icons, sugar is as much a connotation for the holidays as anything else. Treats like cookies, candy, pie, chocolate, sweet beverages and lots of carb-rich foods seem as essential to the season as any other form of tradition. While a lot of these fun and festive things make us smile, they’re not especially beneficial for the smile. This time of year is right up there with Halloween for boosting the cavity count, but does that mean you should sit out the season and insist your family do the same? With a few adjustments and a more mindful approach to holiday indulgence, you don’t have to.
When it comes to baking and preparing holiday favorites, whether for or with your family, choosing a recipe that’s naturally low in sugar or less chewy and sticky is better for your teeth. Remember, sugar content is not as big of a factor for cavities and tooth decay as the duration of the sugar contact on the tooth enamel. In other words, the longer the sugary, sticky or carb-rich food stays on or between your teeth, the more damage it can do.
That’s another reason why holiday eating damage control can help save your teeth from cavities. If you can, brush your teeth about thirty minutes after you’ve eaten or had an acidic beverage like coffee or wine. If you’re far from your toothbrush and floss (though it’s not a bad idea to bring them with you for holiday feasts), drink plenty of water before and after you indulge. Not only will you indulge less, you’ll flush away some of the food and drink residue that would otherwise stay on the teeth to stain and decay your enamel.
If there’s anything good about holiday feasting, it usually means there are plenty of choices and alternatives. As long as you’re mindful about what you put on your plate, it’s not hard to prevent and manage smile damage. Skip snacking on crackers and just go for the cheese-- even better than that, hover around the raw veggies. Stay away from hard and chewy candies all together and quell any sweet cravings with a piece or two of chocolate, or just have some xylitol gum or a mint to abstain. Make your side a salad, carrots, broccoli or cauliflower instead of candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce or beets. When it comes to sipping hot chocolate, cider or flavored coffee, try to use a straw to avoid slow sipping and contact with the teeth. This minimizes staining in addition to exposure to sugar and acidity.
Last but not least, try to let go of some of that holiday stress and make sure you get rest when you can. Everyone seems to be busy and overwhelmed this time of year, but much of it is preventable and takes a real toll on our health, including the teeth. Grinding and clenching of the jaw, whether conscious or unconscious, causes cavities, straining, cracks, chips and other forms of costly smile damage. The extra caffeine and alcohol or days when things become busy and festive can contribute to bruxism, TMJ and other problems. Enjoy yourself but don’t allow upcoming celebrations to be an excuse for excess or extra cause for stress.
And don’t forget, a new toothbrush makes a great gift for everyone on your list!
Happy Holidays to all!