The holidays make it difficult to avoid rich foods filled with sugar. A few Christmas cookies, a lot of latkes during Hanukkah, one or two slices of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, or even a couple of glasses of champagne on New Year’s Eve, can all add extra sugar to any holiday reveler’s diet. To counter the affects of holiday excess, New Year’s resolutions often start with a pledge to dust off the treadmill in the basement or to willfully endure the judgmental looks given by the staff at the gym who long ago assumed you moved away or were shipped wrecked on some remote desert island. Little thought, however, is usually given to the effect holiday treats have on your teeth.
The food you choose to eat not only determines whether you can still fit into your favorite pair of jeans, but it also determines the health of your teeth and gums. Many dentists have serious concerns over the amount of sugar their patients consume on a daily basis. Soft drinks, sweetened fruit beverages, and other less than healthy snack choices all have little to no nutritional value, while containing high levels of sugar that can take a negative toll on a patient’s teeth given enough time.
When the bacteria in your mouth, often referred to as plaque by Dr. Beadnell and her staff, comes into contact with sugar, an acid is produced that attacks the enamel on your teeth. Without brushing after a meal, the acid will eat away at your teeth’s enamel for at least 20 minutes every time you consume sugar. Constant exposure to these acids can cause the enamel to weaken, which eventually leads to tooth decay. In short, for every soda you drink or cookie you eat without immediately brushing, you subject your teeths enamel to a little more decay.
Nearly all types of food contain some kind of sugar, so it becomes impossible to entirely avoid the acid that forms from plaque. However, decreasing the amount of sugar you consume daily can help limit the amount of acid exposed to your teeth. Diets with fewer sweets and more fruits and vegetables also provide your body with needed nutrients. Diets that lack these vital nutrients could make it more difficult for your gum tissue to resist infection, which may contribute to gum disease. While poor nutrition does not directly cause gum disease, research does suggest that the disease progresses faster in individuals with nutritional deficiencies in their diet.
To maintain a healthy mouth and strong teeth past the holidays and well into the new year, make sure you maintain a balanced diet that contains a variety of food from all of the five major food groups. This includes:
• Grain products, such as breads and cereals
• Meat, fish, and poultry
• Cheese, milk, and yogurt
Also try reducing the amount of snacks you eat between meals, but if you just can’t wait, choose to snack on such nutritious foods as cheese, raw vegetables, fruit, or yogurt. Foods eaten during a full meal cause less damage to your teeth. During a full meal, your mouth produces more saliva, which washes away food particles in your mouth, and decreases the affect of acids. So the acids caused by eating a dessert after dinner have less affect on your teeth than does eating a candy bar as an afternoon snack.
Of course no diet can replace the value of brushing and flossing at least twice a day, and after meals. If you can’t brush immediately after eating, be sure to drink plenty of water to help wash away any lingering food particles. If you have any questions about the affects certain foods may have on the health of your teeth, just ask Dr. Beadnell during your next appointment. Remember, while the holidays come and go, a healthy smile lasts the entire year.