Approaching the Christmas holiday and New Year weekend, there’s going to be a basketful of sweets in most homes – cookies, baked goods, and drinks.
Most all of the endless food and beverage goodies will be loaded with sugar or some kind of substitute thrown in to satisfy the sweet tooth of scores of millions of children and adults.
When visions of sugar plum fairies dance in your head as you lay down each night and slumber off to dream land, those endless amounts of sugary delights will be working their magic in your mouth.
Without proper dental hygiene during these wonderfully delicious December days, your teeth are in for a major Ninja style attack.
Sugar is a major enemy of your dental health.
According to www.HealthyTeeth.org, sugar plays a harmful role in tooth decay.
The bacteria that form together to become plaque use sugar as a form of energy. They multiply faster and the plaque grows in size and thickness. Some of the bacteria turn the sugar into a kind of glue that they use to stick themselves to the tooth surface.
This makes it harder for the bacteria to get washed away with your saliva.
And, according to Bupa’s health information team, eating sugary food and drink encourages tooth decay. But it’s how often these sugars are eaten – rather than the amount – that is important.
Avoiding sugars between meals gives your teeth a chance to be remineralised by saliva.
Limiting sugar between mealtimes is particularly important for children.
It’s also good for your general health to reduce your sugar intake. Don’t eat acidic food or drinks such as fizzy drinks or citrus fruit juice, between meals, as these also encourage tooth decay and erosion.
According to the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF), the main point to remember is that it is not the amount of sugar you eat or drink, but how often you do it.
Sweet foods are allowed, but it is important to keep them to mealtimes.
To help reduce tooth decay, cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks and try to sugar-free varieties confectionery and chewing gum containing xylitol may help to reduce tooth decay.
Sugary foods can also contribute to a range of health problems including heart disease and being overweight.
It is better for your teeth and general health if you eat three meals a day instead of having 7 to 10 snack attacks. If you do need to snack between meals, choose foods that do not contain sugar. Fruit does contain acids, which can erode your teeth. However, this is only damaging to your teeth if you eat an unusually large amount.
Try to limit dried fruit as it is high in sugar and can stick to the teeth. If you do eat fruit as a snack, try to eat something alkaline such as cheese afterwards. Savoury snacks are better, such as: cheese, raw vegetables, nuts, and breadsticks.
The BDHF goes on to say that all sugars can cause decay. Sugar can come in many forms, for example: sucrose, fructose and glucose are just three types. These sugars can all damage your teeth.
Many processed foods have sugar in them, and the higher up it appears in the list of ingredients, the more sugar there is in the product. Always read the list of ingredients on the labels when you are food shopping. When you are reading the labels remember that ‘no added sugar’ does not necessarily mean that the product is sugar free.
It simply means that no extra sugar has been added. These products may contain sugars such as those listed above, or the sugars may be listed as ‘carbohydrates’. Ask your dentist if you are unsure.
BBC Health reports that tooth decay is one of the most common diseases in the world. Despite rates of dental caries falling in the last 30 years, it affects almost half of children and adolescents and more than 55% of adults in the UK.
Dental caries is a disease caused by acids – fermented sugars and starches – breaking down the tooth. It can be very painful and unsightly, and may lead to tooth loss if not managed. Thankfully it’s preventable and manageable if detected early. The modern UK diet contains a mix of sugars and other carbohydrates that can be fermented in the mouth by oral bacteria to produce acid.
Research has shown that people in countries that eat more sugar have significantly higher levels of caries. Studies also show that when people ate less sugar, for example during World War II, there was also a reduction in dental caries.
Both total sugar intake and the frequency with which it’s eaten are factors.
Small amounts of sugar consumed frequently over a period of time will cause more damage than the same quantity consumed on a single occasion.
Constant sugar nibbling encourages continuous demineralisation and the saliva doesn’t have time to neutralise the acids.
Sticky or chewy foods that remain in the mouth longer also cause more damage as the bacteria have more time to produce the acid.
So you’re ready to party, and have your toothbrush hidden away and ready to pull out at the end of the day to get rid of those nasty, but oh so tasty nibbly bits, and you want to know what to avoid.
For most people, Christmas is an opportunity to eat a month’s worth of food in a matter of days, according to SmallTok. Christmas is a great family celebration and most people go all-out when it comes to doing the Christmas food shop.
We all like to indulge a bit at Christmas, but which foods will do the most damage to our teeth?
1. Chocolate advent calendars Chocolate advent calendars get the Christmas eating off to a start at the beginning of December; most calendars only contain a small individual chocolate for each day of advent so this won’t cause too much damage, unless you supplement your daily intake with a load of other sweet treats. Or if you are one of those that likes to annihilate the calendar in a single day…
2. Christmas Pudding Christmas pudding is a traditional favourite; Christmas pudding is packed with calories and contains plenty of sugar. The sugar content increases further when you add dollops of cream, brandy cream and brandy butter to the mix. Looks good when you set it aflame though.
3. Candy canes Candy canes are a Christmas staple but they are full of sugar and could cause damage when you’re busily crunching your way through them; not recommended for those with wobbly or chipped teeth.
4. Mince pies Everyone loves a mince pie, but again, the filling is packed with sugar and most have a generous sprinkling of sugar on top too. Keep you intake of these delights to a minimum.
5. Eggnog Eggnog is a sweet, frothy Christmas drink which is consumed in countries across the world. The drink is made using sugar, eggs, milk and cream. Eggnog is a comforting, Christmassy drink but it won’t do your teeth any good.
6. Boxes and tins of chocolates Most households end up with a crazy amount of chocolate at Christmas time, with family size tins being a popular gift between friends, colleagues and neighbours. Chocolate is one of the most popular foods on the planet but it’s packed with sugar and high in fat so it should really be an occasional treat, rather than a daily staple.
7. Fizzy drinks Most households stock up on fizzy drinks at Christmas time; the full-fat versions are full of sugar so if you’re worried about your teeth try to go for sugar free, diet versions. Fizzy drinks are a major contributor to tooth erosion, which is a chemical process that attacks and wears down the enamel surfaces of the teeth.
8. Selection boxes Selection boxes are a popular gift for adults and children alike; they contain a range of sweets and bars of chocolate, which unsurprisingly contain large amounts of sugar.
9. Christmas cake Christmas cake is an age-old tradition and many families still engage in a joint effort to make the Christmas cake weeks before Christmas day. Covered in thick frosty white icing and marzipan, Christmas cake is full of sugar and remains a firm festive favourite.
10. Trifle Trifle is a popular alternative to Christmas pudding. Most people make trifle with fruit jelly, sponge, cream and custard. Unsurprisingly with all those rich ingredients, a trifle is packed with calories and contains a lot of sugar, not the best option for people who are worried about their teeth.
Scrooge had a better Christmas Eve if you consider all the ghosts of Christmas future that will haunt you if you don’t brush, floss, and rinse at least twice a day.
And, pace yourself on those treats – otherwise you’ll wake up asking yourself ‘What the Dickens?’
During the festive days around holiday time, it pays to be cautious about your dental health. It’s OK to have fun but eat and drink in moderation.
Enjoy family and friends, and focus on the reason for the season, but just remember, when it comes to your teeth and gums, the last thing you want on Christmas morn, Boxing Day, or New Year’s Day is to wake up with a grin that looks like Hadrian’s Wall in winter.