7 min read

9 Tooth-Damaging Foods to Avoid Over the Holidays

Watch out, tooth enamel -- here come the holidays! From Halloween to New Year’s Day, American teeth become the target of a nearly endless barrage of plaque-inducing snack attacks.

From the literal buckets of sugary treats on Halloween night to the onslaught of honey-glazed Thanksgiving dinner plates, decadent double-decker boxes of Whitman’s samplers, handfuls of marshmallow-filled chocolate Santas in our Christmas stockings, and baskets of spicy football day hot wings, the winter months hit our teeth with a wallop that won’t stop.

But what can we do?

Cutting the sugar back to a reasonable amount, drinking water between meals (keep some on hand), brushing at least twice daily, flossing, drinking green or black tea, chewing sugarless gum, and not constantly snacking can help a lot -- as can avoiding (or minimizing our noshing on) a few of the worst culprits, which we’ll discuss in some detail in today’s blog.

1. Bread, crackers, or other snacky carbs

Ah, the satisfying taste of warm, buttery bread. Or crackers dipped in homemade queso. Or steaming Thanksgiving stuffing drizzled with gravy. Pretty much everyone can agree that breads are the epitome of comfort food, so what’s the downside? Well, the problem is that aside from often being associated with weight gain (especially white bread), added sugar, and easily spiking one’s blood sugar levels, bread starches swiftly break down into sugar when chewed up in the mouth via an enzyme called amylase -- and then this sticky business gets stuck in between the teeth, which can lead to cavities.

Give your teeth a break:

The good news is you don’t have to totally rid your holiday menu of breads. Less refined breads like whole grain, tough German types, or Ezekiel varieties are a satisfying carb replacement for many without being quite so easily broken down into sugar. Adding a slice of cheese, lean meat, or other proteins to the snack can help neutralize the acid as well, making the pair less harmful to the teeth. Be sure to drink plenty of water after eating breads and other carb-heavy snacks, too.

2. Sticky, gummy and sour candies

While it may not be surprising that candy is rough on the choppers, the way its high concentration of sugar interacts with the teeth is an eye-opener. Turns out this sugar, with the heaviest amounts being in the extra sticky or sour types of candies, works in unison with bacteria in the mouth to create a harsh acid that assaults tooth enamel with a vengeance. Not long after that, cavities and tooth decay are on the way. On top of that, the parts that stick to your teeth keep on attacking until removed by brushing, swishing with water, or eating something else.

Give your teeth a break:

Skip the Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, Starbursts, and Gummy Bears when shopping for this year’s Halloween candy. Instead, choose less sticky candy options which can be more easily swept away with saliva, such as chocolates, as they’re much easier on the teeth. Choose these kinds, or better yet, make your own for a healthier option overall. The kids surely won’t complain, and neither will the adults!

3. Dried fruits

While healthier than some snacks, dried fruits are still pretty hard on the teeth. Their stickiness is the problem, just like with sticky candies -- they not only stick to the teeth, but they also create a harmful acid that keeps on attacking tooth enamel as long as they stay on it -- which tends to continue long after you’ve finished the snack.

Give your teeth a break:

Grab a fresh piece of fruit instead of dried whenever possible. If you’re worried about it turning brown after you slice it up, give it a good tossing in some lemon or lime juice to keep it looking fresh. For gifting, companies like Edible Arrangements or Harry & David offer lovely Christmas pears and other fresh fruit gift boxes over the holidays. Plus you could always get creative and make your own!

4. Certain salad dressings and sauces

We aren’t happy to be the ones to tell you, but that extra delicious hot wing sauce you love on your Superbowl party chicken wings may land you in the dentist’s chair after all. It turns out they’re almost as acidic as the fresh-squeezed lemon juices or vinegar used in most of America’s favorite salad dressings. But take heart, there are options.

Give your teeth a break:

If you can deal with trying a new dressing, try something yogurt-based or add a little water to some basic hummus, then drizzle over your food. Most importantly, regardless of the dressing type, do limit your time with the acid on your teeth. Enjoy some fresh veggies or a salad in one sitting, and sure -- toss a few hot wings in with it while you’re at it. As long as you treat it like a single meal instead of an all-day eating session, you can finish up, rinse well with plenty of water, and maybe even brush your teeth when you’re in the bathroom.

5. Ice

We’ve all done it, and at the time it doesn’t seem the least bit harmful. Your beverage is gone but the ice remains, and it can be quite refreshing to nibble on a few of those cool cubes -- especially if you’re still waiting on appetizers and your belly is growling.

Well, once again, we’ve got bad news. Turns out ice is way too hard for human teeth to be crunching, and it can easily damage your teeth. Teeth are made for chewing food - not anything harder than food. The tooth structure can’t sustain the force required to break hard things like ice apart and will eventually become damaged.

Give your teeth a break:

Return to the sugarless gum strategy if you feel the need to chew on something. Not only will it satisfy the urge to chew, but it also helps clean the teeth if you can’t brush them anytime soon. According to the American Dental Association, “chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals can help prevent decay.” You could also try gum or mints sweetened with xylitol, which helps target and remove harmful bacteria.

6. Nuts, popcorn kernels, and other hard snacks

Although they can be part of a balanced diet, many types of nuts can also wreak havoc on the teeth. Dental professionals suggest these crunchy delights are a bit on the dense side for their comfort and can lead to ‘splintering,’ causing what’s often referred to as ‘microcracks’ or even fracturing the teeth over time. It’s best to eat them sparingly, at room temperature (never eat them frozen unless you really wish to damage a tooth), and chew them slowly and cautiously.

While you’re at it -- please skip the unpopped popcorn kernels, too. They’re not meant to be ingested, let alone chewed by human teeth.

7. Citrus fruits

While sweet, ripe oranges may be a holiday tradition for some and admittedly full of vitamin C, citrus fruits are a naturally harmful blend of sugar and acid that attack the teeth like none other. If you think switching to grapefruit might help, think again -- grapefruit are even more acidic and capable of prematurely wearing the enamel of the teeth.

Give your teeth a break:

Try a less acidic fruit option, like bananas, papaya, or figs. These can be just as flavorful as citrus in the winter, and a little creativity can make them a delight for the taste buds. (Some folks enjoy sliced bananas topped with chia seeds on peanut butter toast in the morning, for one example. Bananas are low in acid and chia seeds are both nutritious and good for the teeth).

If you’ve decided that you’re going to eat citrus fruits for the health benefits, just don’t let them linger in your mouth. Eat it, then swish with water or brush your teeth, and be done with it.

8. All-day grazing

It seems like the holidays mean every surface is covered with snacks in every household you happen to visit -- all day and night. Sit down in a chair, and there’s a bowl of nuts and dried fruit on the side table next to you. Sit somewhere else and there’s an overflowing charcuterie tray and six bowls of chips, dips, cheese chunks, creamy salads, and other snacks arranged in front of you. At many houses, there are even dishes of colorfully wrapped candies and nuts that are easy to grab every time you happened to pass by while visiting.

And while it feels like the all-day grazing that goes hand in hand with the holidays is harmless, it’s actually horrific for your teeth. Why? After you eat, your mouth becomes more acidic and stays that way for at least 20 minutes. Doing that constantly, all day long means maintaining a more acidic environment in the mouth at all times -- which is a cavity-friendly situation.

Give your teeth a break:

Stick with a maximum of three mealtimes and two official snack times each day and leave the endless snacking alone. Take your time and savor your foods when you do eat, so you won’t feel rushed and unsatisfied afterward, making you prone to have extra snacks. Once you’re finished, be sure you brush your teeth and/or rinse thoroughly with water -- and keep your mouth nice and fresh and food-free until the next eating time.

9. Sweet sodas, seltzer waters, and sports drinks

Much like the alcoholic drinks we already discussed, other types of drinks can also create chaos on our teeth. From Dr. Pepper to Gatorade, sweet tea to Red Bull, and fruit-flavored La Croix to vitamin water, the sweet drinks of the season make up our final stop.

These drinks are often poured into our holiday glasses alongside pretty ice cubes, fancy straws, or other such cocktail decorations intended to encourage us to slowly savor them for a long time. Therein lies the problem. These lengthy sip sessions ensure our teeth are bathed and coated with the acidic and sugary ingredients of the beverage, which continuously erodes the precious enamel of our teeth, as the pH balance in our mouths doesn’t get a chance to return to normal during the entire time we’re drinking.

Give your teeth a break:

If you’re bored with plain water and nothing seems to spruce it up enough, try taking sparkling water and mixing in a few drops of homemade bitters crafted from botanicals like lavender, rosemary, fresh ginger, vanilla beans, or cinnamon sticks. This will be sensorially satisfying and help replace sugary drinks.

At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.

Call Us - (480) 759-1119

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