Thanksgiving might not seem like the day for starting good eating habits. But there are a few things you can do on Thanksgiving that can be good for oral health year-round.
You may not realize, but Thanksgiving is also a feast for the millions of microbes in your mouth. The bacteria in saliva love the same starchy and sugary Thanksgiving foods you do. When bacteria break down sugars, they produce acids. And that’s bad news for tooth enamel.
Here a few things to think about at Thanksgiving that can make a big impact on oral health:
• Cut out the sugary drinks – Carbonated soft drinks contain lots sugar and acids that erode tooth enamel. It’s blasphemous in the South, but your waistline and teeth will thank you if you start drinking unsweet tea or use alternative sweeteners. You can make a special low sugar holiday drink using diet ginger ale or clear diet soda. Fill an ice cube tray with reduced sugar cranberry juice. Pour the ginger ale or diet soda over the cranberry cubes. As the cubes dissolve, your holiday drink becomes infused with flavor. You can even add a dash of orange juice for flavor and color.
• Serve plenty of fiber-rich vegetables. As if fiber isn’t awesome already, Thanksgiving foods with high fiber like sweet potatoes, pumpkin and broccoli help clean your mouth because fiber stimulates saliva production. Saliva helps flush out food particles and acid attacking your teeth.
• Incorporate crunchy vegetables – Another good reason for crudité platters, crunchy vegetables and fruits like celery and apples have high water content, which dilutes the effects of the sugars they contain and stimulate saliva production. Crunchy vegetables are also low-calorie. Crunchy fruits and vegetables also help by mechanically removing plaque from teeth.
• Offer hot green or black tea – It’s warm, it’s comforting and it contains antioxidants called polyphenols. Studies have shown polyphenols help suppress bacteria that can produce harmful acid. This could be an alternative to an after-dinner cup of coffee.
• Don’t forget the water – Tap water contains fluoride, rinses your mouth and is calorie-free.
And if you have a long drive home after the holiday meal and don’t have a toothbrush, chew a piece of sugar-free gum. It will increase saliva flow and reduce the acid level in your mouth.
Nancy Jacobson, DMD, Clinical Associate Professor
Advanced Education in General Dentistry Program
East Carolina University
School Of Dental Medicine