Sweets During the Holidays and Their Effect on our TeethBy Andie Tuggle, DMD
There is so much to love about the holiday season: The warmth of time spent with friends and family, parties stocked with wonderful food and drink, and, of course, all the sweet treats that appear everywhere – whether it’s in your home, office, or even the gym.
But as good as all of that is, the holidays should also come with a warning label. Because some of these wonderful things can also be hazardous to your health – certainly for your oral health.
Take, for instance, all the sweets that appear throughout the month of December. It is so easy to grab a piece (or two or three) as you’re walking past a candy bowl. And while we often think of how bad that is for our waistline, we still grit our teeth and think, “well, I’ll work it off in January.” But it’s those very teeth you should be thinking about first. For a while you can work off excess weight with diet and exercise, it is much harder to reverse the damage sugar causes to your oral health.
Doubt it? Let’s look at sweets during the holidays and our teeth and show you what you can do to minimize damage and take care of your oral health.
Sugar and tooth decay
First, let’s look at what sweets do to our teeth and why they can be dangerous.
Remember when you were a kid, and your dentist and parents told you that sugar causes cavities? Well, they weren’t lying. Sugary foods stick to your teeth and promote cavities. How?
A cavity is a hole that develops in your tooth because of decay. That decay is caused by a build-up of bacteria that penetrates the tooth’s surface. Your tooth cannot heal a cavity on its own and must be corrected by a dental professional.
Cavities can occur at any age and are fostered by a combination of genetics, poor oral hygiene, and diet – especially sugary, simple carbohydrate-heavy and acidic foods. Foods heavy in sugar promote the growth of plaque. Over time, plaque hardens and creates a protective barrier for the bacteria that is always present in your mouth. The plaque will then begin to erode the enamel that provides a protective barrier for your teeth. Without the protective enamel, the bacteria and plaque begin to eat away at the actual tooth. Unattended, this process will not stop until it consumes the entire tooth down to its nerve root, eventually killing the tooth.
Why are the holidays more dangerous for your teeth?
We already discussed the presence of sugary foods everywhere. But it’s more than just eating sweets; when and how you eat them is just as detrimental.
Frequent snacking – even if it’s not solely on sweets – also feeds tooth decay. And what else do we do during the holidays if not snack?
Bacteria needs to eat to survive, and when you eat, it too eats. Therefore, eating throughout the day promotes bacteria growth.
When you space your eating out throughout the day, it gives your mouth a chance to wash itself and heal via natural methods, such as saliva.
How to ensure a healthy holiday season
This does not mean you have to forsake all sweets and display the greatest willpower on the planet. It just means that you need to be smart about how you consume sweets – and how you attend to your oral health.
First off, eat your sweets only during meals if possible. But if you must snack, follow it up by drinking a glass of tap water. Most public water supplies – including many of those in north Georgia – add fluoride during the treatment process. Bottled water may taste great, but it keeps you from enjoying a huge benefit in the shape of bacteria-killing fluoride. And the levels utilized in public water are way too low to be dangerous to other aspects of your health.
If possible, after snacks or meals, you should brush or floss immediately – you can buy cheap toothbrushes for dry brushing at the office or utilize an interdental cleaner (the plastic flossers you see in stores), both of which are disposable.
Follow these steps on top of your normal oral health routine, which should include:
- Twice daily (or more) brushing – Still the best method for keeping your teeth healthy, do so with fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss – Try to do this once a day at least. But make sure to use floss to clean between your teeth.
- Use mouthwash – If you are concerned about bacteria levels in your mouth, it could be a powerful ally, which means the holidays may be the best time to wash consistently.
- Balance the sweets with an otherwise healthy diet – Just like sugar and acidic foods promote bacteria growth, healthy foods actually stifle bacteria and even help clean your teeth. How? When you eat, you produce saliva, and that saliva cleans your teeth. NOTE: Do be aware of some healthy foods, such as nuts, as they can be hard and cause chips and cracks in teeth.
- Chew xylitol gum – That does not mean just sugar-free gum (most of which is flavored with artificial sweeteners, which aren’t much better than sugar). Xylitol is a specific type of sweetener, a sugar alcohol, which does not promote bacteria growth. Chewing it also promotes saliva production, which helps cleanse your teeth. The gum can also pull away food particles otherwise stuck to your teeth.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption – This too can be tough during holiday time (with party after party), but alcohol consumption decreases saliva production – especially while you’re sleeping, which is a time when your mouth bathes itself in saliva and cleanses itself. So, drinking too much can accelerate tooth decay.
Other things you can do to promote healthy teeth during the holidays include using apples as stocking stuffers. These great-tasting, natural foods promote oral health as you eat them, scrubbing your teeth, gums, and tongue as you chew. Apples also battle bad breath by helping remove residue from the back of your tongue, where bacteria buildup leads to unpleasant smells.
Finally, the best thing you can do is to ensure you have a dentist appointment scheduled for the New Year. That way, an oral health professional can take a look at the state of your teeth and determine if you need anything extra to help you deal with the attack of the holiday sweets.
If you don’t have an appointment scheduled or don’t have a dentist, know that the caring team at BGW is here for you. Our staff will fully evaluate your oral health via the most cutting-edge methods available in all three of our locations throughout north Georgia. And whatever your need, we will tailor-make your oral care to suit your specific situation.
So, while you’re enjoying these holidays, keep your oral health in mind. And please get in touch with our offices today at 678-582-8099 and let us help you enter 2023 with the healthiest teeth possible.