Let’s be honest: from our morning coffee habit to our afternoon sweet tooth, we put our teeth through a lot on a daily basis, and never is that more true than during the holidays.
In addition to enjoying the sugary drinks and rich foods that are key components of keeping spirits bright, the swing between Thanksgiving and New Years also puts a spotlight on our smiles. From office parties to family gatherings, a calendar chock full of festivities can put your pearly whites in peril. Fortunately, there are several steps one can take to mitigate any lasting damage from the season’s indulgences.
The AEDITION spoke to New York City-based cosmetic dentist Alina Lane, DDS, about how to get your smile in shape for the holidays and how to keep it merry and bright all season long.
Last-Minute Smile Treatments
It may be too late in the season to start a clear aligner treatment plan or have custom veneers fitted, but there are still options available for anyone looking to spruce up their smile before the onslaught of holiday photos and events begins.
Professional teeth whitening treatments are the gold standard for getting a noticeably brighter smile quickly, and your dentist may be able to ensure your pearly whites stay, well, white for as long as you need them to. “Many dentists can make custom bleaching trays for you to touch-up your teeth at home to ensure your holiday photos feature a brilliantly clean and bright smile,” Dr. Lane shares. If an office visit isn’t in the cards, over-the-counter whitening products can also be effective. For best results, look for ones that contain hydrogen peroxide to lift stains.
In-office teeth cleaning is a quick (and cost-effective!) way to enhance your smile — though you’ll want to be sure you set your appointment in advance. Dr. Lane warns that many insurance cycles end in December, so there is often a rush to take advantage of the benefit. Professional cleaning treatments are minimally invasive and require no downtime. While you won’t see a dramatic change in the shade of your smile without a chemical whitener, an in-office cleanse is usually able to remove newer surface stains and leave your mouth looking and feeling fresh.
The Best Foods to Eat (and Avoid!) For Healthy Teeth
Even if you did schedule an in-office teeth whitening appointment or professional clean, it’s all too easy to neglect your smile once the season’s festivities get underway. Whether you’re indulging in potentially damaging foods a bit more than usual or forgetting to brush your teeth after snacking, there are a lot of hazards for your mouth to navigate this time of year.
First and foremost, teeth are sensitive to the environment in which they exist. While sugar itself does not cause cavities, it does attract bacteria that lowers the mouth's PH, making it more acidic and leading to tooth decay. Failing to maintain an adequate brushing routine (who hasn’t had to do a last-minute drugstore dash because they forgot their toothbrush?!) can also result in a buildup of plaque that can cause lasting damage.
But that’s not all. When it comes to eating for oral health, it’s not just about the ingredient list and nutritional facts. The texture of the foods we consume play just as big a role in limiting damage. Hard candies and crunchy foods, for example, can do quite a bit of harm (even if you are fastidious with your brushing and flossing regimen), which is why Dr. Lane encourages her patients to lay off a few holiday staples.
Food and Drinks to Avoid Over the Holidays:
- Pecan and Pumpkin Pie
- Candy Canes
- Sugary Sodas and Alcohol
As a rule of thumb, she recommends staying away anything too sweet or sticky. And, if you choose to indulge, do so in moderation and brush your teeth as soon as possible after — the longer the sugar is in your mouth, the more chance it has to cause damage.
But it’s not all bad. In fact, there are a number of foods that are sure to be on the dinner table over the holidays and can actually improve your oral health. Squash, green beans, apples, and other fruit and vegetable dishes all contain vitamins and nutrients that are great for your mouth. Such foods also tend to coat your teeth less, which means the demineralizing sugars and acids that lead to tooth decay and cavities don’t hang around as long.
How to Maintain Your Oral Hygiene Over the Holidays
In addition to being mindful of what you eat, Dr. Lane has a few at-home ideas for keeping your smile in tip-top shape over the holidays (hint: don’t forget your toothbrush).
- If you’re going out or having a late-night snack, brushing your teeth before going to sleep is imperative.
- Don’t be tempted to skip steps in your oral hygiene routine (i.e. you still need to floss!).
- Invest in a travel-size toothbrush, toothpaste, and mouthwash that can easily be thrown in your purse or dopp kit for on-the-go cleaning. A package of proxabrushes (you know, the little spoolies that reach between your teeth) can be helpful, too, if floss is not an option.
- In a pinch (think: long flights, late nights, etc.), carry tooth wipes for a quick boost. And, of course, sugar-free gum is always helpful when you want to freshen up.
- When traveling, research a local dentist that will be open over the holidays and save their contact information ahead of time, so you won’t need to panic if a dental issue arises while you’re away.
Oh, and don’t forget about your aligners. If you are currently undergoing clear aligner therapy, you will need to pay even closer attention to your oral health during the holidays. For starters, be careful not to eat crunchy, sticky, or chewy foods while the trays are in. Similarly, you’ll want to avoid eating or drinking anything that could stain the aligners.
It can also be easy to leave aligners off for longer than you would normally, which is one surefire way to throw off your treatment schedule. If you do end up forgetting to wear them, let your dentist know ASAP so they can adjust your plan.
They don’t call it the most wonderful time of the year for nothing, but doing your best to keep your oral hygiene in check around the holidays can go a long way toward ensuring your brightest and best smile year round.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day, and be mindful of not only the ingredients in the foods you eat but the texture of the food, too (this is especially important if you have braces!). Holiday veggie dishes and protein-packed meals give your body and your teeth a great boost in vitamins and nutrients. When you inevitably choose to indulge, do so in moderation — and don’t forget your toothbrush!
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