Oh the joys of the holiday season. A time for parties, family gatherings, football games, boxes of candy at work, cookies and snacks – the list of temptations is huge – and hard to resist. A time when your teeth are constantly exposed to sugar, processed carbohydrates and cavity inducing bacterial acids. A time when our daily dental and oral care habits are seriously challenged. Not to mention the disruption to our daily brushing and flossing routine when traveling. However, oral hygiene is too important to abandon during the holidays, especially when exposed to so many bacteria generating sources. All it takes is awareness and preparation to maintain a realistic dental care plan during the holidays.
Guidelines for Preventative Oral Hygiene During the Holidays
• Moderation is the key when faced with tables laden with sweet goodies and fancy cocktails. Take a nibble here and there. Eat your sweets as part of a bigger meal to induce more saliva to neutralize acids. Stay away from sticky and gummy foods. They tend to stick to your teeth longer and increase the food source for bacteria, resulting in increased acid wearing away at the enamel. Avoid sodas and huge mugs of eggnog or hot cocoa with marshmallows. Opt for cocktails with club soda, skinny versions of mixers, or wine spritzers. Making healthy choices keeps weight off and doesn’t give bacteria the sugary sustenance it needs to start decay.
• Do not use your teeth to crack nuts, open bottles, hold on to ribbons while tying, or to undo knots. You are not a canine. Using your teeth as tools can lead to a smooth crack right down the middle leaving your tooth looking like a pistachio, or a chip right out of the front just before the group photo. The bottom line – avoid biting on anything that is hard, no matter how tempting it may be. That includes candy canes, English Toffee, ribbon candy, peanut brittle, caramel anything and whole nuts. A cracked or chipped tooth is extremely painful, and can ruin your entire celebration.
• Bring an emergency brushing kit containing a toothbrush, dental floss and toothpaste with you to dinners, parties, and other gatherings, even if you are only expecting a meal. At least stash one in the car if your party dress is tiny and your purse is tinier. During the holidays a visit to friends or family has the potential to extend to overnighters or even longer stays.
• Try to brush and floss soon after eating, especially when the merriment continues well into the night. It’s too easy to wait until the event is over to take care of your teeth, because the temptation to fall exhausted into bed the minute you get home may be too strong to detour to the sink. Right after dinner is perfect timing to clear your mouth of the sugars and acids that can damage teeth. That means flossing after brushing, and then be careful not to snack too much afterwards.
• If brushing and flossing is just not possible after eating, bring along some sugarless gum containing Xylitol to chew after eating. Before chewing the gum, rinse your mouth out with water, or at least swish some around while drinking it. At a minimum, rinse your mouth with water.
• If possible, don’t wait until after the holidays to get important dental work completed. Otherwise, you might risk either discomfort from the problem, or it could even make the condition worse. And even though needed cosmetic dentistry may not be crucial, you sure will be happier during those photo opportunities.
• Since most dental offices are closed on the major holidays and the following day, and some close for the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s, make sure you have a collection of emergency dental contacts, especially if you are traveling. A dental emergency has the potential to occur when least expecting it.
• Give the gift of a radiant smile. Choose a few dental themed items for stocking stuffers, like new toothbrushes, exotic tooth paste flavors, even a portable water pic. Even if your kids seem underwhelmed, their teeth will be thanking you.
After the Holidays
Dentists report seeing a lot of patients after New Year’s complaining of tooth aches, who just might have over-indulged a wee bit during the holidays. And it actually is probably easier to take off a few pounds afterwards than undo the damage of inconsistent oral care during the sweetest month of the year. Since we all know our weaknesses when faced with wonderful treats, baked goods, steaming rich beverages or cocktail toasts, Mouthwatchers recommends that you make an early New Year’s Resolution to consciously continue to practice good oral hygiene throughout the winter holidays, since you probably already know that willpower to ignore those scrumptious holiday delicacies is impossible. By following these tips, you can have a little piece of mind when reaching for that extra cookie that potential holiday caused dental problems can be averted.