With less than a week until Thanksgiving, your mind is probably wandering – thinking about time with friends and family and remembering the things that you’re thankful for. Most Americans are already obsessing about the seemingly endless selection of food at Thanksgiving dinner.
The foods can be a fantastic sensation for your taste buds, but if left unchecked, they can do real harm to your teeth. Many everyday foods increase the risk of cavities, so the extra Thanksgiving food requires extra care to keep your teeth healthy.
What causes cavities?
We’re often told to limit foods with sugars because they cause cavities. Actually, this is only partially true. The sugars themselves are not inherently bad for teeth, but they serve as fuel for harmful bacteria – and the bacteria create an acid that wears away the tooth enamel. The bacteria also use the sugars to form glucans, the white plaque that becomes home for other bacteria.
You don’t have to avoid all of your favorite dishes at Thanksgiving dinner to keep your teeth healthy. Just like you hear for most health-related matters, moderation is key. The more sugars and starches you eat, the more you are feeding those harmful bacteria.
Not all foods are bad
One of the main attractions of Thanksgiving is the food, but you don’t have to shy away from it for the sake of your teeth. There are actually a few foods that can help your teeth fight off the harmful bacteria.
Some studies have shown that fresh cranberries, a staple of Thanksgiving dinners, can reduce the damage done by harmful bacteria. Compounds in the fruit disrupt the glucan-forming process and make it hard for bacteria to stick to teeth (and eventually wear them away). You won’t get this benefit from cranberry sauce or juice, though; the sugar content in those items is much higher and will negate any benefits of the cranberries.
Red wine is another Thanksgiving mainstay that can also help your teeth. According to research, fermented grape stems, seeds and skins left over from wine production have high levels of the same compounds found in cranberries. Don’t overdo the wine, though; too many glasses will stain your teeth.
Thanksgiving dental tips
Some of our favorite dishes, such as sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, typically contain high amounts of sugar. Try reducing the sugar in the recipe and avoid adding additional toppings like marshmallows or whipped cream, since yams and pumpkin are naturally sweet.
Another healthy alternative is adding a vegetable platter to the dinner table. In addition to being more nutritional, crunchy options such as celery and carrots help stimulate the gums and scrape away plaque from your teeth. Celery also stimulates saliva production, which helps neutralize bacteria.
Don’t forget to keep up with your oral hygiene in between all the friends, family, food and football. If possible, brush your teeth and floss between meals, but if you can’t do that, rinse with water and chew some sugar-free gum to minimize the buildup in your teeth. Good attention to routine hygiene as well as regular appointments with Dr. Fitzgerald will allow you to enjoy your holidays while keeping your smile bright.