Seven tips to keep your teeth healthy this Christmas
By Lisa Salmon
Christmas is full of temptation and overindulgence. But while many of us might be thinking about our waistlines, don't forget to consider the impact on your teeth too. All those extra sugary treats and acidic drinks could take their toll come the new year.
"I notice a rise in patients with sensitive teeth in January, after people have enjoyed themselves during the Christmas period," says Nicola Makepeace, a dental hygienist and therapist at Bupa Dental Care (bupa.co.uk/dental/dental-care).
"It's a given that we're all going to enjoy a range of treats over the festive break, but it's still important to maintain a well-balanced diet and consume moderate portions, in order to have a happy, healthy smile throughout the festivities and save yourself from starting the new year with oral health problems."
So, what should you be keeping in mind? Here, Makepeace talks us through what to watch out for, and how to make more oral health-friendly choices over the festive season...
1. Minimal mince pies
Mince pies may be a Christmas must-have but their fruit-filled, sugary centres mean they're not the most teeth-friendly treats. "Dried fruits are high in sugar content and also have a consistency which tends to stick to the tooth's surface," explains Makepeace. "So while a couple of mince pies isn't all that bad, it's important people don't eat too many, as they can be putting themselves at risk of getting cavities."
2. Choose chocolate over sweets
Chocolates, sweets and candy canes are classic Christmas traditions, but opting for a piece of chocolate over a bag of sweets is a wise choice. "Instead of reaching for your favourite pick and mix sweets, which are made up almost entirely of sugar and because of their texture are more likely to get caught in the biting surfaces, try satisfying your cravings with a piece of dark chocolate," suggests Makepeace. "Dark chocolate has less sugar than milk chocolate and because of its smooth consistency, it won't lodge in tooth recesses and linger longer. "
3. Watch the prosecco
Prosecco is one of the nation's favourite alcoholic beverages, but it's high in acid and sugar content, similar to many fizzy drinks. Low-carb beers have the highest water content and lowest acidity.
Makepeace says: "Prosecco has a high acidic level, which dissolves tooth enamel causing erosion. Along with white wine and cider, it also has a high sugar content, which can increase the risk of tooth decay. So, while there's nothing wrong with enjoying a nice glass of bubbly every now and again, if you start drinking the same drink daily, it could have a negative effect on your teeth, causing irreversible sensitivity."
To help prevent the alcohol damage, drink water between beverages. This will help wash away the alcohol and stop sugar and acid remaining in or around the mouth.
4. Mind the mixers
Spirits can also cause erosion, but your choice of mixer can be even more harmful due to the high sugar and acid content in cola, lemonade, juice and diet sodas, etc. Whisky and coke, and vodka and cranberry juice are two of the worst spirit and mixer combinations, and Makepeace adds: "Most people know sugary drinks are bad for teeth, so it's good to pair your spirit with a lighter tonic or even a sparkling water."
5. Say cheese
If you're a cheese lover, you'll be glad to know that - when eaten in moderation - cheese can benefit your teeth. "Cheese contains high levels of phosphate and calcium, which naturally strengthen teeth and bones," says Makepeace. "It also helps balance the pH level in your mouth, which means less harmful acid, more cleansing saliva, and fewer cavities."
6. Go nuts
Not only are nuts full of healthy fats, they're great for cleaning and strengthening your teeth. "These crunchy Christmas nibbles can help us produce saliva to clean teeth and regulate the pH of the mouth," explains Makepeace. "Likewise, unsalted nuts, like almonds, are full of calcium, which is a mineral your body needs to maintain strong teeth and bones."
7. Nail your dental care routine
Effective dental care is important all year round, but because people consume more sugar and acidic food and drink over Christmas, it's important to give extra care to your teeth and maintain good oral hygiene during the festive season.
Makepeace says: "My top tips include rinsing your mouth out with alcohol-free fluoride mouthwash between meals to protect teeth from harmful acids, and I also recommend sugar-free chewing gum with xylitol to neutralise the pH in the mouth quicker, but don't chew for longer than five to 10 minutes."