As we head into the holidays, there are plenty of amazing meals and treats to take advantage of. For many, certain foods have become a part of Christmas traditions. There’s nothing wrong with indulging a bit more than usual around the holidays; but everyone has to have their limits, and it’s important to remember that from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the holiday season stretches over the course of several months. This means that a lot of us get out of hand, eating far more holiday food than we even realize. While many recognize that holiday food often isn’t the best for your general health — there’s a reason why there are so many New Year’s resolutions focusing on losing the holiday weight — they overlook how bad it can specifically be for your dental health.
The fact is that children, in particular, have a hard time limiting themselves around holiday treats. With so many sugary desserts available — cookies for Santa, pies and cake at family meals — kids often have a hard time remembering to care for their dental health. In fact, the holidays often interrupt kids’ routines in general. It can be difficult for them to stay on track when caring for their dental health when they’re taking a lot of time off of school. With that being said, it’s up to you to care for not only your own dental health but that of your children. Kids aren’t the only ones who can forget to take care of their teeth or limit their sugar intake. After all, lots of different holiday drinks meant for adults — spiked eggnog, foe example — can eat away at your teeth over time. While you shouldn’t avoid holiday food entirely around the holidays, you should make sure that you consume it wisely. There are a few different foods that stand out in particular as risks for your dental health. Overindulging in them one too many times can also lead to other health problems down the road as well. With that being said, we’re looking into some of the riskiest foods you’ll be exposed to around the holidays — and what you can do to maintain your dental health well into the New Year.
Think about how much candy the typical child — and sometimes a good deal of adults — gets in their stocking over Christmas. There are plenty of candies that are specifically marketed for the holidays. Elaborate holiday meals can even include candied flowers, turning a plant into a sugary delicacy. As you can imagine, of course, candy is not exactly good for our teeth. Sugar, in general, tends to build up and begin rot in our teeth, eroding them over time. Yes, you can brush your teeth to keep them healthy and to discourage this problem — but no matter how often you brush them, if you eat too much candy in a short period of time, the damage may be difficult to fix. Of course, other problems come with candy as well. Stickier candies, like toffee or even candy canes, can ruin a person’s braces. Many children have braces over the holidays, and they may not want to abstain from their favorite candies. However, these candies can get caught in their braces, possibly ruining them — or remaining undetected. This can seriously compromise an individual’s dental health, as the trapped food will rot over time, in close proximity to their teeth. If your child has braces and you really want to effectively safeguard their dental health, you may want to avoid the issue entirely and remove risky candies from the picture. Kids don’t need to have candy to enjoy the holidays. They could potentially eat other desserts, or try sugar-free candy. For that matter, if you consult with a health coach you may find healthier foods that your children like even more. If you’re an adult — you know that sugary candy can cause issues with your blood sugar, weight gain, and even skin problems. Don’t put yourself in a sugar coma over the holidays. Limit or entirely eliminate your sugar intake around Christmas.
2. Acidic Foods
Imagine you and your family are gathered around the table for a holiday brunch spread. Chances are that you might find yourself drinking a mimosa, or perhaps a cup of coffee. You may want to eat some fruit, like orange slices or even lemon slices. While there are plenty of health benefits to eating fruit over candy, you’ll want to keep your dental health in mind before you eat too much citrus at once. All of the aforementioned food or drinks are acidic. Acidic foods can often be eaten in moderation, but if you overconsume them you could find yourself facing complications. (In fact, moderation is often the key to caring for your dental health in general.) Acidic foods — which also include cranberries, Thanksgiving lovers! — slowly wear down your teeth. Not only does this literally physically chip away at them — it also causes your teeth to become more sensitive over time. This means that you’ll end up feeling a shock, or even pain, when you eat or drink something cold. Of course, another complication that can come with these food or drinks — especially coffee — is teeth staining. While this doesn’t necessarily affect your dental health, it can be embarrassing. With that being said, you may want to drink more water and less orange juice or coffee. If you’re particularly dependent on caffeine, however, you may find that you experience withdrawal symptoms if you cut yourself off of coffee too quickly. These symptoms can include fatigue and headaches, as well as body aches. Therefore, you may want to ease off of caffeine gradually, slowly cutting down to one cup a day — or perhaps even no coffee at all. A hot cup of coffee may seem perfect during the winter, and you might want to replace everything sweet you would eat with fruit. But balance out those acidic foods, and don’t overdo them.
There is literally a song about chestnuts roasting on an open fire — for many families, cracking nuts around the table and eating them during the holidays is traditional. (Even if they aren’t roasting them over an open fire.) The great thing about this type of snack is that it’s not necessarily unhealthy, and they are vegan-friendly, which makes them popular holiday snacks. But if you decide to pull a nutcracker out of a kitchen drawer and eat them the old fashioned way, you could cause some dental health problems. For one thing, it’s easy for bits of shell to cling to the nuts themselves, and get caught in people’s teeth without them realizing it. For another, some people — especially children — get overeager and attempt to crack them with their teeth. Not only does this potentially lead to even more potential for the shells to get caught in their teeth; they could potentially break their teeth in the process of attempting to crack the nuts open. Most adults — but not all! — know better than to do this. But children often need a bit more monitoring. Never mind the fact that some nuts can be choking hazards for particularly young children. While you may want to get folksy and try your hand at using a nutcracker over the holidays, you need to so carefully.
Popcorn is a part of the holidays on several different levels. If you’re really traditional, you may want to make garlands of popcorn, stringing them up on your Christmas tree. Otherwise, it remains a great snack all year round — and many people are excited to be gifted with tins of holiday popcorn, which can be coated in caramel or even cheese. As with nuts and candy, popcorn can get caught in your teeth, causing rot over time. If you have braces, you shouldn’t even try to eat it. But during the holidays, you may, in fact, have to deal with other risks as well. Caramel makes the popcorn especially sticky, and takes a snack which can often be, if not guilt-free then better for you than alternatives, and makes it sugary and less healthy. Yes, you may want to take advantage of this “special” snack. But is it really worth risking your teeth over? Chances are that the answer is no!
Now, let’s step away from all of our warnings for children. Adults can be just as guilty of getting too excited and eating or drinking things that they shouldn’t! There are plenty of alcoholic beverages that are particularly popular during the holidays. Punches like “Jingle Juice” are popular at holiday parties. Everyone loves to spike their eggnog, perhaps having a bit of rum in the process. We often have time off around the holidays, which means that we can indulge a bit more and relax. This often leads us to drink more than we usually would. In general, you shouldn’t drink too much. But you might not be aware of the fact that alcohol can damage your teeth. When you drink, you’re actually drying out your mouth, robbing it of saliva. Your saliva, in turn, is crucial for the health of your teeth, as it keeps food particles from sticking to them. Saliva can also fight off the beginnings of tooth decay, as well as gum disease and general infections. If you’re going to drink around the holidays, you should make sure to balance the alcohol with extra water. For that matter, you should use oral hygiene rinses. It may be a good idea to switch to tartar removing toothpaste as well; after all, it only takes 24 to 72 hours for plaque to turn into tartar. Remember that at least young children are often affecting their baby teeth — which they should care for, but are going to lose anyway. You’re dealing with the only set of teeth you have left!
The issue with fighting against the problems these foods and drinks cause during the holidays is that most people are going to eat and drink what they want regardless. Many view the holiday season as the perfect time to cut loose and relax their normal routines. Even those who are normally strict about what they eat and drink may get out of hand during the holidays. If you find yourself slipping in your habits during the holidays, what you should do next is take “extra” care of your teeth. Know that they may be going through the wringer, and invest your time and energy in their well-being.
In other words, it’s not enough to just brush your teeth during the morning and the night. Brush them at lunch as well. Use some mouth wash to kill off the bacteria building up in your mouth, and help remove the tartar building up on your teeth. You should also make sure to floss at least every evening, removing the bits of food that perhaps are stuck between your teeth without your knowledge. Yes, you should also cut back on the foods and drinks that can damage your teeth. But if you can’t do that, at least take better care of your teeth, even if that means adjusting your routine. Try to substitute healthier options in favor of the foods that might harm your teeth. Think of it as investing in your future — versus indulging in the moment.