For Healthy Teeth Watch What You Eat This Thanksgiving
We are coming up on Thanksgiving week, meaning the food-centric holidays have begun. This is great news for family and friend gatherings and the retail market, not so great news for your teeth. With the holidays comes a plethora of foods loaded with an ingredient your tongue loves but your teeth hate: sugar.
"f the thought of restricting delicious sugary and carb-heavy foods is too daunting, especially during this holiday season, think more about what you can add to your diet: leafy greens, fruits and meats that contain minerals that support healthy teeth."
DR. KAMRAN HAGHIGHAT, B.D.S., M.S., P.C.
Diplomate, American Board of Periodontology
Diplomate, American Board of Oral Implantology
What Are The Effects of Sugar On Teeth?
We’ve all been told sugar in large consumption isn’t very good for our bodies, but why isn’t it good for our teeth? Here’s why: bacteria that live on the teeth love sugar. They feed on it, and when they feed on it, the sugar turns acidic. Acid can destroy the enamel on your teeth, causing cavities and all sorts of problems. So the less sugar you eat, the less “food” the bacteria in your mouth have to feed on.
We know it’s not realistic to avoid sugar completely on Thanksgiving, but keep your teeth in mind when you go for rounds two and three of dessert. You can have your pie, but maybe don’t have seconds.
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Carbohydrates are another popular food during the holidays that can wreak havoc on your teeth. Rolls and starchy mashed potatoes are a staple on the Thanksgiving table, but those delicious carbs break down into sugar that fuels bacteria and creates acid that breaks down tooth enamel. Again, it’s not that you can never eat carbs again. It’s just good to be conscious of your consumption, especially during the holidays.
Now that we’ve talked about what you shouldn’t eat, let’s talk about something more fun: what you can eat.
Water! Ok, that’s not food, but water is incredibly important for healthy teeth. It helps create saliva, which is essential for sweeping away bad bacteria and helps rid leftover food and debris from between your teeth. It’s an excellent alternative to sugary beverages like soda, juice and wine, and it can contain trace minerals that are good for your teeth.
Speaking of minerals, when it comes to foods that are good for your teeth, think about the minerals teeth need and what foods contain those minerals.
A good example is calcium. It is the most important mineral for your teeth because it hardens your enamel and strengthens your jawbone. Cheese, yogurt and milk are excellent sources of calcium. So are dark leafy greens like collard greens, spinach, and kale.
Your teeth also need phosphorus to support the calcium. Phosphorus can be found in seafood like scallops, shrimp, and tuna and also in lentils and pumpkin seeds.
Vitamin D is also important for calcium absorption. Of course, it is most naturally found in the sun, but as far as food goes, mushrooms, fatty fish, and foods commonly fortified with Vitamin D like milk and orange juice are great choices to get an extra dose of Vitamin D. Eating Vitamin D-rich foods is especially important during the holidays when colder temperatures and shorter days might prevent you from getting out in the sun.
Potassium is another mouth-friendly mineral because it helps with bone mineral density. Bananas are the obvious choice here, but tomatoes and avocados are good sources of potassium as well.
When Should You Eat?
Now that we’ve talked about what to eat for healthy teeth, let’s discuss when you should eat. Yes, it matters. According to the American Dental Association, it’s best to save eating for mealtimes, rather than snacking throughout the day. This is because maximum saliva is generated when eating full meals, and saliva is needed to wash food away from the teeth and to lessen the effect of acidic foods on the enamel. This is great news for a holiday like Thanksgiving, centered around one large meal, but be careful with how many leftover turkey sandwiches you eat the rest of the day.
Maintaining A Healthy Diet
Oral health is not isolated. Maintaining a healthy diet, in general, keeps your immune system strong which helps your mouth do what it needs to do and get rid of bad bacteria. If the thought of restricting delicious sugary and carb-heavy foods is too daunting, especially during this holiday season, think more about what you can add to your diet: leafy greens, fruits and meats that contain minerals that support healthy teeth. If you focus on this during the holiday season, you’ll find a balance that is right for your body and your teeth.