We all want healthy teeth and healthy gums. But the lure of sweet treats, delicious drinks, and decadent desserts during the holiday season can overwhelm our otherwise sensible choices. Unfortunately, holiday foods that damage teeth are all-too-common this time of year.
Time to switch things up and try a new tradition: Holiday treats that can strengthen your teeth and your holiday smile.
Avoiding Holiday Foods That Damage Teeth
Even if you’re diligent about brushing and flossing, many foods will make caring for your teeth an uphill battle, or might even damage your teeth outright. In order to help you protect your teeth this holiday season, we've put together a list of the holiday treats that damage your teeth the most:
Eggnog. Eggnog is full of sugar, which is always bad for your teeth. But since this drink often has alcohol in it, it can dry out your mouth and prohibits the production of saliva. That means the sugar residue stays in your mouth for longer and does more damage.
Candy Canes. These holiday staples are also loaded with sugar, but what makes them especially bad for your teeth is that they take a long time to finish. Unlike a cookie that you may eat in a minute, candy canes bathe your mouth in sticky sugar for minutes on end.
Holiday Sugar Cookies. That said, cookies can still be an issue. Especially the kind of sugar cookie common around the holiday. C’mon... it has “sugar” in the name! Eating too many of these will only accelerate tooth decay.
Potato Latkes. The pancakes themselves are not the problem, it's what's on the side. A common tradition is to dip potato latkes into table sugar, which turns a traditional holiday treat into something that's damaging your teeth. When possible, eat them with applesauce instead.
Caramel Popcorn. Sugar is once again the culprit in this holiday snack. But it doesn't help that caramel popcorn is so addictive. It's easy to munch on it absentmindedly for minutes on end which just exposes more sugar to your teeth for longer.
Of course, this list might be longer if you have braces, Invisalign, or other orthodontics. (Read: “Holiday Eating With Invisalign: Should Candy Canes Be On the Menu?” and "Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid with Braces.")
Holiday Treats For Healthy, Happy Teeth
It wouldn't be much fun to spend the entire holiday season avoiding treats, especially when everyone around you is enjoying them so much. Luckily, you can be merry and be merciful on your teeth at the same time.
Here are some seasonal treats that you can indulge in without feeling guilty:
Peppermint Ho! Peppermint flavors are a staple of the season. Instead of eating candy canes, try peppermint tea (or make your own peppermint tea) and sweeten with low or sugar-free syrup. You can also try these homemade, sugar-free peppermint patties, of this terrific (and easy) dairy and sugar-free peppermint fudge.
Gingerbread. The bold flavor of ginger means that gingerbread tends to have less sugar than other types of cookies and cakes. So try gingerbread cookies over sugar cookies, or try baking actual gingerbread yourself- that way you can control how much sugar goes into it!
Cheese. Love cheese already? A study published in the American Academy of General Dentistry found that eating cheese raises the pH in the subjects' mouths, lowering the risk of tooth decay. Cheese also contains calcium and protein, both found in foods that strengthen teeth. So go ahead, break out those holiday cheese balls. (We love this Christmas Tree shaped one you can make yourself.) If entertaining, it’s worth learning how to set up a simple cheese platter.
Almonds. Almonds are one of the best-kept secrets of the snack world. They are a good source of calcium and protein (which, again, helps to strengthen teeth) but are also low in sugar. While we don’t usually associate almonds with the holidays, winter has always been a season for roasted nuts. Try these spicy roasted almonds, or these rosemary roasted almonds, to get that nostalgic feel without loading your nuts with sugar. And, if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can make these no-bake almond cranberry Christmas cookies. They’re vegan, low in artificial sugars, and totally tasty.
Keep Your Teeth Happy This Holiday Season
One more thing to consider – during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it's easy to let our guard down and "skip" our usual teeth cleaning habits. Bad idea: This is precisely the time of the year when those habits are most needed!
Take a moment to recommit to your oral health routine, and make time to brush and floss. (And, if you have kids, make sure they are taking care of those kids teeth too!)
Another good way to honor that commitment is a New Year’s resolution to get a dental check-up and take stock of your own oral health. If you live in North Carolina, The Happy Tooth team would be happy to arrange an appointment with you to do this. In the meantime, enjoy your holidays – but avoid any foods that damage teeth.