Whether we like to or not, we have to agree that one of the best things about the holiday season is the food! From Halloween through New Year’s, there are so many delicious treats to enjoy, weight gain has almost become another holiday tradition for many of us.
Of course, beyond fueling a million “lose weight” resolutions heading into the New Year, all this celebratory nomming can have an impact on your oral health. To help ensure “replace teeth” doesn’t make it to the resolutions list, let’s consider four common-sense steps you can take to protect your oral health during the holidays.
Step One: Maintain your self-care habits daily
No matter how busy the holiday season gets, no matter how late you get in from that ill-advised caroling rave your college roommates organized, or how early the kids wake you up on Christmas Day, don’t forget to brush and floss your teeth properly every single day.
This isn’t a difficult thing — brushing our teeth before bed is one of the most common habits we all share — but it is easy to underestimate its value and to let other things get in the way. It’s also easy to get in the bad habit of brushing too quickly, incompletely, or even too aggressively. Remember: brush at least twice a day for at least two minutes, and make sure to hit every surface of every tooth. Then, gently floss between each tooth with an up-and-down motion, not trying to saw your gums in half.
Special Tip: Replace your toothbrush at least once every 3-4 months, or whenever it starts showing signs of wear. Remember, even the best carpenter in the world can’t work with a broken hammer.
Step Two: Opt for sugar-free when possible
Granted, this isn’t a flawless solution. After all, dropping a handful of sugar-free lozenges into a neighborhood kid’s trick-or-treat bag is liable to get your house egged later that night, and no one wants to be responsible for making the funkiest egg nog at the office Christmas party.
But, where and when it’s practical and possible to do so, opting for the sugar-free alternative can save your teeth a lot of wear and tear. Sugar is the main source of food for the billions of bacteria that make their home in your mouth, and when your teeth and gums are coated in it (which includes every time you take a swallow of Coke or suck on a Jolly Rancher) you’re creating a feeding frenzy. The result is a byproduct of all that bacteria-sugar-consumption: acid.
And it’s the acid that eats away the enamel of your teeth, leading to cavities. Beyond that, the congregation of bacteria, sugar, and acid that stays on your teeth quickly hardens into plaque and eventually tartar (or calculus), which also exacerbates tooth decay, causes gingivitis and other periodontal diseases, and makes your teeth look gross.
Special Tip: Grab a Coke Zero instead, or maybe skip that third piece of fruitcake.
Step Three: Drink plenty of water
This tip is so simple, it would almost be funny if it wasn’t ignored so often.
Your body is made up mostly of water. Water is a part of every cell, and it’s vital to nearly every process that makes it possible for you to think, move, and exist. Yet, we need to download apps on our smartphones to remind us to drink enough water everyday!
"But, where and when it’s practical and possible to do so, opting for the sugar-free alternative can save your teeth a lot of wear and tear. Sugar is the main source of food for the billions of bacteria that make their home in your mouth..."
During the busy, hectic holiday season, remembering this simple and vital activity can be even more difficult. Because let’s face it: there are plenty of other tasty beverages calling your name at all the holiday parties you’re going to attend this year. And most of those beverages offer some fun side benefits that water can’t really compete with (although survival is a pretty nice side effect that probably doesn’t get enough attention.)
Beyond keeping your body functioning properly, drinking water is also great for your oral health. It serves to wash out the mouth when more intensive efforts (like brushing and flossing) aren’t practical. It also promotes the production of saliva, which is the mouth’s ever-present natural cleansing agent. Staying hydrated also helps your immune system stay in peak condition, which is important when it’s tasked with warding off the attacks of those billions of sugar-fueled bacteria that are constantly rampaging around your teeth and gums.
Special Tip: Adequate hydration is also the only 100-percent guaranteed way to cure, and even prevent, hangovers. Should that prove to be a beneficial factoid this holiday season, you’re welcome.
Step Four: Schedule a cleaning strategically
You do visit the dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning and examination, right?
If not, change that situation immediately. Assuming you do, however, consider scheduling your next cleaning for immediately following the holiday season (or, if insurance terms require it’s done during the calendar year, as late in December as possible.) That way, you’ll have a professional cleaning and exam after most (or all) of the holiday treats have been consumed, setting you up for a fresh start heading into next year.
It’s a practical way to maintain your oral health, but also offers peace of mind that may just make that third piece of fruitcake go down a little bit easier.
Special Tip: If you’re a member of a discount dental plan, like Dental Solutions, there are no limits on when you can receive discounted services, so arranging your cleaning for January 3rd will be no problem at all.
With these tips in mind, have a fun and exciting holiday season!