Every holiday season we find ourselves grazing on those delicious holiday treats—candy canes, gingerbread cookies, chocolate turtles, etc.—like their open season. You usually have to get to them quick or you are stuck with the not-so-delicious options.
Although that sweet sensation can be satisfying, it also can be damaging to your teeth and increases the likelihood of cavities. Sugar from treats sits on our teeth and the bacteria that lives in your mouth feeds off of the sugar, creating acid as a byproduct that causes dental erosion— an irreversible mineral loss that can cause structural damage to the teeth. It can lead to a hole in the tooth called a cavity. If not treated, tooth decay can cause pain, infection and tooth loss.
To avoid this problem altogether, make sure you brush and/or rinse your teeth with water after a sugary treat. Dr. Cindy Flanagan, DDS, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) suggests consuming sweets that are less damaging to your teeth than others.
1. Sugar-free lollipops and candies
• Sugar-free treats are a great sweet alternative to regular sugar, with the added bonus of less calories! These treats stimulate saliva which prevents a dry mouth; an unfavorable dry mouth allows plaque to build up on teeth faster. Plaque, a clear sticky substance, is always forming on your teeth and gums that carries bacteria that leads to tooth decay.
• Its worth noting, sugar-free sour hard candies may cause more bad and than good because the high levels of acid present in the candy erodes tooth enamel.
2. Sugar-free gum
• Chewing sugar-free gum can prevent cavities because it increases salvia and helps dislodge food particles. Salvia neutralizes the acids in your mouth and prevents erosion and tooth decay.
• Xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar substitute, in sugar-free gum actually clogs up bacteria when they ingest xylitol; preventing the bacteria from producing acid and eventually dying from being clogged up.
3. Cocoa Rich Dark Chocolate
• Cocoa in dark chocolate has been linked to significant health benefits, including lower blood pressure, improves cognitive function, improves blood vessel health and cholesterol levels. Cocoa contains antioxidants that have the potential to prevent heart disease. However, some findings indicate milk in chocolate may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants and therefore may negate the potential health benefits.
• It is suggested to choose dark chocolates with a high percentage of cocoa and lower in cocoa butter, which chocolate makers often count as part of the total cacao percentage. Furthermore, how they process the raw cocoa bean can affect the amount of flavanols (antioxidants) in the final product. Processing chocolate with alkali is called “dutching” and the process greatly decreases the amount of antioxidants. Avoid Dark chocolate that says “processed with alkali.”
1. Sugary snacks
• Kettle corn, cookies, fruit cake, ice cream and all snacks with high sugar content all have the potential to cause tooth decay.
2. Chewy and sticky sweets
• Taffy, Gummy candies, and dried fruit are examples of the worst kind of sweets to expose to your teeth to, because they often get stuck in the tiny spaces between your teeth and make it close to impossible for salvia to wash away.
3. Sour Candies
• Those sour patch kids may be nice to your taste buds but they are definitely not nice to your teeth. These treats have high levels of acid that can break down tooth enamel quickly. Dr. Flanagan suggests that patients wait 30 minutes to brush teeth after consuming acidic foods or drinks to avoid brushing the acid onto more tooth surfaces and increasing the likelihood of tooth erosion.
So this Holiday season, put down that enticing milk chocolate turtle and replace it with a sugar-free or dark chocolate alternative. If you can’t resist the sugary goodness (probably applies to 99% of us), then it is suggested to rinse your mouth with water and brush/floss the sugary treats off of your teeth.
Remember your oral health is largely determine by your oral hygiene habits. Better hygiene habits will save you money and time, not to mention tooth aches, when dental complications from tooth decay can cost you to replace your pearly whites. While you still have teeth, you might as well take care of them or the alternative is buying yourself a new smile which can be costly. What would you prefer?