In his iconic poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," Clement Moore wrote of children sleeping "while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads." Indeed, sweet treats are still interwoven into the holidays—and a prime reason why we tend to put on pounds during the season. It may also be why your next dental visit might come with some unpleasant news.
The starring actors in much of traditional holiday snacking and feasting are naturally-occurring or added sugars. Carbohydrates like refined sugar in particular can dramatically affect your dental health if you over-consume them, because they can feed the bacteria that causes both tooth decay and gum disease.
There are ways, though, to reduce their impact on your teeth and gums. You can, of course, go "cold turkey" and cut refined sugar out completely, as well as curtail other carbohydrates like refined flours and fruit. It's effective, but not much fun—and what are the holidays without fun?
More in line with "moderation in all things," there are other ways to minimize the impact of carbohydrates on your teeth and gums during the holiday season. Here are a few of them.
Limit refined sugar. While you and your family may not be up for banning sugar during the holidays, you can reduce it significantly. For instance, prepare more savory items rather than the sweeter kinds. If you must go for sweet, opt for naturally occurring sugars in fruit or dairy rather than refined table sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
Eat sweet treats with meals. Constant snacking often comes with the holiday season. And, why not—all those abundant goodies are just begging to be eaten. But noshing all the time never allows your mouth's saliva, which neutralizes the enamel-eroding acid produced by the bacteria fueled by sugar, a chance to finish its buffering. Instead, try as much as possible to limit treats to mealtimes.
Use different sweeteners. There are a number of alternative sweeteners to regular sugar, both natural and artificial. Some work better in baked goods, while others are more suitable for candies or beverages. Xylitol in particular, a sugar alcohol, actually discourages oral bacterial growth. You can also use natural sweetening agents like stevia or erythritol to help reduce refined sugar in your treats.
Even if you normally limit carbohydrates, it's understandable if their consumption rises during the holidays. That's why it's important you don't neglect daily brushing and flossing to help control bacterial plaque, the main driver for dental disease. Both effective oral hygiene and reining in the sweets will help your teeth and gums sail through the holidays into the new year.
If you would like more information about protecting your oral health during the holidays, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”