It can be so easy to put your oral health on the backburner during the holidays, especially the foodie ones like Thanksgiving. Out of all the big holidays, this one seems to assemble a full-on assault against your teeth and gums: mashed potatoes (with extra butter!), dressings of various tastes and textures, stuffing and turkey and gravy and bacon-wrapped dates and bacon-soaked green beans, and of course—no matter how you have tweaked your Thanksgiving meal throughout the years, you always have to have—pumpkin pie. Unfortunately, these delicacies can pack a punch on your teeth’s enamel, wear on the tops and insides of your gums, causing some real damage.
Kind of a buzz-kill, huh? Not really, if you take the time to consciously remember and execute a few key tasks this holiday season. So before you cancel Thanksgiving in the name of oral health take a few minutes to see how you can still enjoy yourself this holiday season. Heck, you can even have that second piece of pumpkin pie—we won’t tell.
The Good, the Bad, and the Tasty
Let’s get right to it: which Thanksgiving foods are okay to eat, and which ones should you stay away from? Here is a shortlist of our favorite foods and their effect on your oral health:
- Turkey. Beginning with the star of the show, turkey is mostly good for your oral health. It is packed with protein and doesn’t contain those nasty elements like sugar that do damage to the enamel on your teeth. The only negative side to eating turkey is that it does tend to get stuck in your teeth. An obvious fix is to floss, which should be done directly after eating. As long as you have that floss ready, eat all the turkey you like!
- Cranberry Sauce. Though classic cranberry sauce is mighty tasty, and a wonderful complement to the other traditional Thanksgiving items, it can be rough on your oral health. Since cranberries are tart, sugar or some other sweetener is usually added, which creates a sticky, acidic substance that can stain your teeth, temporarily. But don’t worry, you can still eat it! Try mixing your cranberry sauce with other foods so the sticky substance has less of a chance to stick to your teeth and be sure to rinse with water or mouthwash immediately after eating. This will wash away most of the sugar that made it to your teeth.
- Yams. Since sweet potatoes are filled with Vitamin A and Vitamin C, they help keep your gums healthy. However, candied yams (which contain marshmallows) include a lot of sugar, which likes to stick to and rot your teeth. Our suggestion when eating yams, candied or not, is to have a fresh glass of water right along with it. Every few bites, take a gulp and swish it around a bit (you don’t have to get crazy and start gargling at the dinner table, just a light rinsing of the teeth and gums).
- Green Bean Casserole. The good news is, green beans and mushrooms and onions (the basic ingredients for this meal) are good for your oral health. The not-so-good-news is everything else mixed with these ingredients can be rough on the teeth and gums. There are many different ways to make green bean casserole, but most of them do include some kind of base that turns sticky, and small beans can get stuck between the teeth. Luckily, with a little floss and a glass of water handy, you should be alright.
- Macaroni and Cheese. Mac and cheese is a family favorite—and not just around Thanksgiving. Thankfully, cheese and milk are full of calcium that strengthens teeth. Unfortunately, that gooey goodness that tastes so good can be starchy and leave sugar behind your teeth. For this meal, try to only eat one portion and you need to actually brush your teeth afterward, paying extra attention to the backs of your teeth.
- Mashed Potatoes and Gravy. Believe it or not, mashed potatoes are high in Vitamin C, B6, and potassium, all of which contribute to strengthening your teeth. However, on the other side of that healthiness, potatoes are also incredibly starchy. Bacteria that rots your teeth love to form around the sugar that makes up starch. What’s more, soaking those mashed potatoes in gravy diminishes (by a lot) the overall health benefits of the dish. Our advice: say no to gravy (if that grayish goodness is a necessity, have a little but don’t over do it). And once you finish your mashed potatoes be sure to brush those teeth or, at the very least, swish some from water around in your mouth.
- Pumpkin Pie. What is Thanksgiving without the finale—the big show stopper—pumpkin pie? Gotta have it. And, luckily, there is a good side to eating it: pumpkins have Vitamin A, which aids in keeping your gums healthy, and it also helps build the enamel on your teeth. Bad news is, all that sugar that is added (not to mention the sugar included in that dollop of whipped topping) performs the exact opposite effect—it attaches to your teeth and breaks down the enamel, and it also deteriorates the gums. Now, we wouldn’t dare advise anyone to skip that big piece of pumpkin pie, but we do recommend you limit your intake to this day only. And, just as with those other sugary items, be sure to brush, swish water once you are finished.
So what’s the key take away here? Once you finish that big Turkey-Day meal you need to gargle, floss, and brush. And if you find you are hungry again after that long accidental nap on the couch, make sure you repeat the cleansing process all over again.
Visiting Your Dentist During the Holidays
If, by chance, you experience a dental emergency over the holidays, don’t panic. Simply call our office or visit us online to schedule an appointment, as well as, to talk with someone who can help you as much as possible at the moment. In the meantime, use these few important tips to keep your oral health in tip-top shape:
- Begin by brushing correctly. The best way to keep your gums and teeth at their healthiest is to brush in small, circular motions. This will keep the toothbrush bristles from pushing your gums away from your teeth, which causes irritations that can lead to gum disease.
- Floss every day: flossing is incredibly important for your oral health. This keeps food from resting between your teeth, which begins to rot and aid in gum disease. Floss every morning or at night right before bed—and definitely after the Thanksgiving meal. Be sure not to jam the floss down on your gums. Use soft, clean motions, going back and forth. Hit every area between the teeth and rinse with water or mouthwash after.
- Stop using tobacco: this can be a touchy subject, but using tobacco of any form greatly increases the odds of various gum diseases. Quitting smoking or chewing tobacco is much easier said than done, but if you are a user, at least try and reduce how much tobacco comes in contact with your mouth. Your gums and teeth will thank you.
- Watch your diet: sugary drinks and foods, alcoholic beverages, even fatty meats can all have negative effects on your teeth and gums. As indicated earlier, you don’t necessarily have to cut these things out of your diet completely, but if you are the type of person who enjoys these on a regular basis, rather than on big holidays, try and cut back a bit. At the very least, make sure you brush your teeth right after eating or drinking sugary or fatty substances.
Enjoy yourself this holiday season by eating the foods you love. But don’t stop there, be sure and take care of your oral health as well. There is no reason both can’t happen at the same time! Lastly, never hesitate to contact us at South Charlotte Dentistry with any questions or concerns you may have—even if it’s during the holidays.