Holiday Treats And Your Teeth

Holiday cheer is often synonymous with rich, sugary indulgence. Don’t let your teeth (and smiles) suffer the effects of a sugary season. Learn just how sugars affect your teeth and what you can do to limit their toll on your pearly whites. 

Holiday Treats: The Favorites 

When you think of the holidays, do you think of food? Most do! Some of the most popular holiday treats include: 

  • Traditional English Trifle
  • Christmas/Bread Pudding
  • Sugar Cookies with Icing
  • Baked Alaska
  • Gingerbread Men/Houses
  • Eggnog 
  • Christmas Cake
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Apple Pie
  • Fruit Cake
  • Sugarplums
  • Christmas Candies and Caramels
  • Christmas Yule Log
  • Pumpkin Cake Roll

Pairing these favorite holiday treats with drinks such as hot cocoa, apple cider, sparkling sodas, coffees and holiday wines is also common. However, watch out for what these holiday treats and drinks can do to your teeth!

The Sugar Problem

Did you know that the most chronic health problems worldwide are ones that affect the teeth, gums and mouth? Most people don’t know it, but tooth decay—which you know by the name of “cavities”—is the most “prevalent, chronic disease” in the United States. This is when the teeth decay due to sugars and plaque, leading to dead areas of the teeth, tooth loss, and mushy gums (gum disease). 

These issues surprisingly stem from the sugars you consume every single day. When you eat and drink, sugar mixes with your mouth bacteria to create a sticky film that you know as “plaque”. That plaque will not only make your teeth look cruddy, but it is acidic and doesn’t just wash away by drinking water. When sugar and bacteria mix, it creates an acid that is a transparent film that latches onto your teeth, which can be visible.

The longer plaque sits on your teeth, the greater ability it has to break up the minerals in your teeth with its acids. When it starts to break up those strong minerals, it weakens them and starts to decay your tooth enamel. That strong outer layer starts to become surface cavities that spread to inner layers, causing infection. Acidic plaque from sugars is the leading cause of gum disease and tooth decay. That’s why you want to watch your sugar consumption during the holidays and keep your holiday treats to a minimum. 

Why Do Teeth Change Color? 

Your teeth are stronger than your bones because they are made up of 96% hard-packed mineral content like calcium and phosphate. This makes them strong enough to sustain up to 250 pounds of pressure in one bite on average! The bones, on the other hand, are full of porous areas that can become brittle over time due to health choices and conditions. 

There is the outer enamel layer (the hardest layer), the next layer called the “dentin”, and a soft, pulpy center where nerves and blood vessels reside. When you eat, some minerals on the top layers of your teeth can be stripped from acids such as carbonic acid (sodas/sparkling waters), citric acid (citrus fruits, drinks and candies), and acidic plaque. That leaves areas in the teeth for not only decay to occur, but also staining. 

When small pockets open up where minerals used to be, food and drinks can fill that space. If you’re drinking coffee, for example, you may notice your teeth becoming more yellow over time. This is because dyes in coffees (called “tannins) are filling the small mineral pockets of your teeth. Over time, the teeth look dull instead of white. Anything with dyes added to it can stain the teeth, causing them to change colors. If you drink acidic drinks or consume sugar, you can wear down the amount of minerals your teeth have as well. This can make the outer, white enamel layer thin, showing the grayer dentin level inside. With most causes of yellowing or graying teeth, you can refresh your smile with a teeth whitening treatment. 

Habits that Can Help Your Oral Health

Want to avoid tooth decay and oral health issues during the holidays? Simply control how much sugar you’re eating! Holiday treats like cakes and cookies carry tons of sugar. You want to choose the holiday treats that are your favorites, eat them once and enjoy it, and then limit your holiday treats the rest of the time. You can still eat the foods you love, especially around the holidays. Oral health habits and controlled eating can cut your tooth decay risk down immensely. 

Here are some tips to keep your teeth healthy: 

  • When you do eat holiday treats, try to have it be in one sitting instead of snacking on them all day long. This diminishes the amount of time your teeth are exposed to sugar. 
  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day, for two minutes at a time, as recommended by the American Dental Association. Brush after every meal if you’re planning on enjoying lots of holiday treats throughout your day. 
  • Floss your teeth 1-2 times a day, making sure to floss all the way up in your gum line, scraping the teeth gently as you go. This will dislodge food and stuck-on plaque. 
  • Brush your teeth before you go to bed so that sugars don’t have all night to cause tooth decay. 
  • Use products that have fluoride in them, or use a prescribed fluoride treatment. This is a naturally-occurring mineral that acts as a barrier against acids in foods and drinks. Use fluoride about 30 minutes before meals to get the best protection possible. 

Another great way to protect your teeth is to visit the dentist regularly. At least twice a year for comprehensive exams and cleanings, as recommended by the American Dental Association. You can do this, and get tips for your teeth by calling Family & Cosmetic Dentistry of the Rockies at (970) 223-8425!