Christmas is almost upon us again, and Australian kids and adults are experts at Christmas snacking over the holiday period. Chocolate, cake, chips, Xmas pudding, custard, endless bowls of sweets – you name it, we munch it. We feast like kings and queens – but for our teeth and gums, it is an entirely different experience.
In fact, for them, the holiday period is more like holiday hell.
There are heaps of healthy foods that are beneficial to our oral health. Unfortunately, a lot of traditional Christmas snacks and beverages don’t fit into this category. As it happens, they are the reason why the Xmas/New Year holiday period is probably the worst time of the year for our teeth.
Snacks that are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, such as iced donuts, fruit mince pies and cakes, are the perfect food supply for billions of pathogenic oral bacteria in our mouths. And the more snacks we consume, the more food residue builds up on our teeth.
It’s when we take a break from snacking to watch TV that the fun really starts. That’s because it’s low tide, and the oral bacteria can feast on the food residue trapped in the nooks and crannies of our teeth – and start reproducing very quickly.
In just a few hours, the entire population of bacterial microbes on your teeth, tongue and cheeks can double in number, forming huge bacterial plaque colonies. If these bacteria are left undisturbed for 24 hours because you forgot to brush and floss your teeth – then you’ve got a bacteria population explosion.
You can even see it growing on your teeth in the mirror. It’s that whitish sticky fuzz – on your teeth, close to your gum line – that you can remove with your fingernail. It looks innocuous enough, when actually it’s a thriving plaque colony of living – and reproducing – microorganisms.
The main waste product of these developing plaque colonies is acid. Not just any acid, but a potent compound lactic acid that aggressively demineralises tooth enamel. It can start leeching out calcium from your tooth enamel within minutes – causing loss of enamel, tooth decay and cavity formation.
To make matters worse, it can take up to two hours for your saliva to neutralise this harmful acid because it is beneath dental plaque. The plaque acts as a protective cover preventing the bacterial acid from being diluted or washed away by saliva, food and beverages.
The only way to remove plaque is by brushing and flossing. For ultra-clean teeth, visit your dentist for a professional scale and clean.
Always remembers these teeth saving tips when eating and drinking over Christmas:
- Don’t graze on snacks or sip on sugary drinks. Consume in a timely fashion.
- Minimise the time sugars are present in your mouth. (E.g. avoid sucking lollies).
- Don’t forget your daily brush and floss routine. Look out for plaque build-ups. Keep your teeth clean and fresh, and stay hydrated when you are not eating.
- Don’t savour that lingering food-flavour after-taste. That’s actually the taste of trapped food residue on your teeth and tongue. At the very least, rinse your mouth with water to wash away food residue after snacking. Tooth picks and sugar-free gum can also assist.
- Moderation is key – eat when you are hungry. Avoid binge eating snack foods or sipping large quantities of sugary soft drinks.
- Try to make healthier food choices for snacks.
Eat healthy for a healthy mouth this Xmas!