Holiday Sweets and Brushing Your Teeth

As the holidays roll around, parents often tell their kids to wait until after dinner to eat their favorite seasonal sweet; however, dentists suggest this may not be as effective for their tooth care. On the downside, sugar is public enemy No. 1 when it comes to dental health. It causes cavities, affects the enamel that protects your teeth and has the potential to do long-term damage to your mouth.

The upside is that one way to neutralize the effects of sugary desserts is to eat them along with your main meal. That’s right: You won’t have to wait for dinner to be over to get a taste of Grandma’s world-famous three-layer chocolate cake or that cherry pie you’ve been staring at since it came out of the oven.

“If you are going to eat sugar, it’s better to do it at the same time as a balanced meal,” says Dr. Dorothy Baker of Summerville Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics. “Rather than serving dessert last, incorporate it into your holiday meal. Healthy foods help neutralize the acids in sugar, and they also displace sugar from your teeth.”

Dr. Baker cited several eating habits that kids should avoid, not only during the holiday season but throughout the rest of the year as well. For instance, even though nuts are great to help build strong bones and muscles, you shouldn’t use your teeth to crack them open. Chewing on items such as ice cubes and hard candy is also a no-no.

“Hard candy is the worst offender,” she says. “It stays in your mouth for a long time, and it can also break your teeth.”

She added that soft drinks should be avoided and that fruit juice is included in that category because it provides lots of sugar and empty calories but little in the way of useful nutrients.

So what are parents to do during the holiday season? Should they keep their children from eating any sweets at all, or is it OK to depend on regular brushing and flossing to protect their kids’ teeth from the chaos sugar is capable of producing? Fortunately, they have another option: Various spices can be used to replace sugar, and many of them also have qualities that add to, rather than subtract from, your kids’ overall health and well-being.

Cinnamon, for example, plays a role in reducing inflammation and fighting off bacteria, and it also adds flavor to oatmeal or apple pie. Nutmeg, an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, can play the same role, according to Dr. Baker. She added that clove has been used as a pain killer, and clove oil is an ingredient in some toothpaste and oral antiseptics. It also can be used to give a burst of flavor to apples and pears.

Peppermint, meanwhile, helps alleviate digestive issues, and Dr. Baker points out that rubbing it on your temples can make a headache go away. And chewing on a mint leaf can help you get rid of bad breath.

“Smart snacking is advised, especially right before bedtime and after brushing,” Dr. Baker concludes. “You can replace candy with any winter produce, such as squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkins or any fresh vegetables.”