Dec. 15, 2021 -- It’s no surprise that many people believe the holidays are meant for us to put aside our dietary senses and indulge in all the yummy foods that we’d avoid on a normal day.
While many of these festive treats may cause serious problems for our teeth, others are packed with nutrients and can cause very little harm.
Classic meals and foods like cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, or stuffing, while delicious and comforting, can wreak havoc on your teeth due to all the sugar in cranberry sauce and the number of carbs in stuffing that can turn into plaque.
But loading up your plate with veggies, turkey, and even green bean casserole will provide you with the health benefits you need.
So, how can you protect your teeth this holiday season while still enjoying the foods we crave all year long?
Avoid Fermentable Carbohydrates
“Most people think of sugar as being bad for your teeth, whereas fermentable carbs are way worse than regular candy,” says Whitney Rose DiFoggio.
With experience as a Chicago-based dental hygienist, DiFoggio understands what these fermentable carbs are all about.
“Fermentable carbs are carbohydrates that are broken down by the bacteria in your mouth. Now when this happens, acids are produced in your mouth, which can, unfortunately, quickly lead to tooth decay,” she says.
Examples of these carbs are processed foods like white bread, graham crackers, and cereal, to name just a few.
Fermentable carbs are acidic in nature, and although that is what’s responsible for tooth decay, they’re not inherently bad.
San Diego registered dietitian nutritionist Wendy Bazilian, a doctor of public health, says “they are actually good to an extent because they break down easier and also help to fuel the gut bacteria.”
But their benefit is short-lived by the fact that they break down easily. Due to their pro-inflammatory nature, your oral health may be affected.
But how do these fermentable carbs actually damage your teeth? DiFoggio uses white bread as an example.
“When bread mixes with your saliva, it turns into a paste, and that paste sticks on your teeth, which increases your oral cavities,” she says.
And can you brush away these carbs right after eating? Yes, although there is a catch.
DiFoggio says that you want to wait 30 minutes after eating before you brush.
“If you don’t wait 30 minutes, you might erode your enamel because the food you eat is mostly acidic. And these acids could soften your tooth enamel,” she says.
What to Do Instead
Nona Djavid, a nutrition and weight loss expert in California, says that you can “drink plenty of water and add foods to your diet that are rich in calcium to negate the acidity.”
She says that you should “take these carbs with the main dish (especially food rich in calcium), take a spoonful of yogurt after eating, and rinse your mouth with water.”
DiFoggio demonstrated how to still eat these carbs and maintain great oral hygiene.
“Although it is easier said than done to limit snacking, try to avoid snacking frequently,” she says. “Instead, you can try taking in all the ‘junk’ at once with your main meal. Also, consider drinking lots of water throughout the day to wash away the food debris from your teeth.”
“Water can sneak into the crevices of your teeth and gums and help rinse off the food particles, residue, and remnants from your bites and chews. It helps wash it all down -- or when brushing and rinsing, spit it all out,” Bazilian says
As a nutritionist, she adds that “eating cheese at the end of the meal can help bring the pH of the mouth back up faster toward neutrality.”
The Way Forward This Holiday Season
“Everyone deserves to indulge. However, we often feel guilty when we do. Even if you’re enrolled in a weight loss program, you are absolutely allowed to treat yourself this holiday season,” says Djavid.
The key ingredient is to mentally prepare yourself in order to avoid guilt. Experts say that it’s best if you choose a time to indulge in all the goodies over the holidays. Djavid recommends eating heavier food and drinks intermittently (for example, 3-5 p.m.). Just don’t be on a roll for 12 hours.
Swap the cocktail for soda water mixed with liquor or other drinks like hard seltzers and kombuchas. Don’t forget to bring your own snacks! A bag of carrots or baked sweet potato chips can go a long way.
As the owner of a weight loss program, Djavid paves a way for eating the right way. “If you’re going to taste various meals, try smaller portions so you don’t feel restricted, versus overindulging on one item. One bite of a delicious cookie isn’t going to kill your diet.”
Bazilian reminds us that “the mouth is a gateway to our health.” Remember that it is the only place where you can chew and kick off digestion to nourish every cell and organ in your body -- so keeping it healthy is important.