The holiday season, which unofficially starts with Halloween and ends on New Year’s Day, is the time when everyone likes to cut loose, put inhibitions aside, and eat and drink, well, whatever looks good. The reckless consumption of cakes, candies, pies, beverages (alcoholic and otherwise), meats, and sides carries with it a number of potential health risks — and some of these are dental, because many of these sweet and savory delights can do some serious damage to our teeth. The mixture of sticky candies, sugary sweets, and acidic alcohols and sodas is something out of a dentist’s nightmare. By knowing which foods to eat in moderation, which to chew carefully, and which to simply stay away from, you can avoid that emergency crown replacement and protect yourself from cavities.
The Daily Meal asked nine dentists and dental professionals to give us their lists of holiday foods and beverages they won’t touch. Our experts include: Fountain of Youth Dental in San Antonio led by Chris Cappetta, D.D.S.; Bill Crutchfield, D.D.S. from OBC in Chantilly, Virginia Ira Handschuh, D.D.S. from The Dental Design Center in White Plains, New York; Brandi Dupont, D.M.D., chief dental officer at Community Health Alliance in Reno, Nevada; Victoria Veytsman, D.D.S. in New York City; Hugh Flax D.D.S. in Atlanta; Samantha Sacchetti, D.M.D. in Chicago; Kami Hoss, D.D.S. in Chula Vista, California; Melissa Thompson, D.D.S. in Woburn, Massachusetts; and Harold Katz, D.D.S, founder of The California Breath Clinics and developer of the TheraBreath line of premium oral care products.
There was a general consensus among all of these dental professionals that sugar, acids, alcohol, and sticky foods can do the most damage to your teeth and gums. Acidic foods like citrus, sour candies, or tea can wear away tooth enamel and lead to greater tooth sensitivity and a higher risk of fracture; beverages like eggnog contain the “triple threat” of sugar, alcohol, and dairy. Also worth noting is that some foods affect certain age groups differently. Adults need to worry about fracturing a crown or a bridge, but they are less likely to suffer from tooth decay than someone under the age of 18.
Here are the holiday foods and drinks dentists won’t touch.
Bourbon and Other Spirits
Bourbon might be a tasty addition to eggnog, but it can wreak havoc on your mouth. Dr. Harold Katz says alcohol such as bourbon “makes the mouth very dry, which then creates an environment prime for gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath.”
These iconic holiday treats are better left as a Christmas tree decoration. Candy canes and other hard candies are notoriously bad for teeth because they are packed with sugar and can also cause chipped or broken teeth, Dr. Bill Crutchfield warns.
Citrus fruits are associated with numerous health benefits, but, sadly, many of those don’t apply to dental health. “Acidic foods such as limes, oranges and other citruses can erode enamel over time, causing sensitive and weak teeth,” Dr. Kami Hoss notes.
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“High caffeine drinks cause reduced salivary flow. Saliva assists in removing food particles and unwanted sugars from the mouth. If salivary flow decreases, then sugar and food remain on the teeth and gums leading to an increased risk of problems,” notes Dr. Ira Handschuh says.
Corn on the Cob
Corn is nutritious, but eating it off the cob can be tricky. “This is a difficult food to eat because biting into it can cause you to crack a filling or loosen sealant you may have in your mouth. Not to mention it's terrible to get out of braces or retainers, and can damage orthodontic wires. A better way to eat corn is off the cob, since you'll have a better chance of avoiding gum disease,” Fountain of Youth Dental points out.
Dots and Jujubes
“These are great for decorating gingerbread houses, awful for your teeth,” Dr. Samantha Sacchetti explains. “Similar to the hard, sticky candy that you have option to suck on, you have really no option but to chew them. The excessive chewing it takes for these things (longer if they're from a stale gingerbread house) also can lead to some temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain. For a candy that doesn't even taste that good, it's just not worth it to me.”
Dried fruit is a plentiful source of fiber and nutrients, but these common holiday munchies might increase your risk of getting a cavity. “Although dried fruit may be a better option to snack on than a cookie, dried fruit is still full of sugar that will get in your teeth and cause decay,” notes Fountain of Youth Dental.
Eggnog is one of the worst holiday beverages for your dental health because it contains sugar, alcohol (sometimes), and dairy. “Dairy proteins are easily converted to odorous sulfur compounds by oral bacteria. Sugar feeds the bacteria and alcohol creates a dry mouth, which is an ideal environment for the bugs to multiply. Eggnog is terrible,” Katz says.
If you’re looking for an excuse to avoid eating fruitcake this Christmas, here it is. The sticky and sweet nature of fruitcakes “can cause tooth decay and if you have weak teeth or crowns these foods can actually cause them to dislodge,” Dr. Hugh Flax warns.
There’s nothing more appropriate for a cold winter morning than a steaming cup of hot cocoa with a plump marshmallow floating right in the middle. Unfortunately, “hot cocoa’s high sugar content can lead to tooth decay, and the high dairy content may lead to bad breath,” Katz notes