From Halloween to New Year’s: Best and Worst Seasonal Foods for Your Teeth
Treat Your Teeth Well This Season
Enjoying sweet treats on Halloween or a glass of good cheer on New Year’s Eve is part of the holiday season, but some seasonal fare can take a toll on the health of our teeth and gums.
According to a 2015 report by the National Center of Health Statistics, 27 percent of American adults between the ages of 20 and 64 have untreated tooth decay. Much of this damage is caused by foods that wear away the protective enamel on the surface of our teeth — and you can find many of these foods at seasonal parties and holiday gatherings.
However, there are plenty of delicious options that will allow you to embrace the holiday spirit while keeping your teeth healthy. Here are the top nine foods to either love or limit through the fall and winter holidays.
LOVE: Leafy, Green Vegetables
Raw spinach and kale may not top your list of holiday foods, but these vegetables actually grow best in cool-weather seasons like fall and winter. What’s more, they’re very healthy for your teeth. “Spinach, kale, collard greens — these and other high-fiber vegetables help ‘wash’ our teeth by requiring more chewing, which produces more saliva, a natural lubricant for our teeth,” says Laura Rutledge, MA, RD, a dietitian and assistant professor in the department of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Rutledge recommends a salad of leafy greens, strawberries, goat cheese, nuts, and a little oil and vinegar.
LIMIT: Lemons, Limes, Oranges, and Grapefruit
Citrus contains vitamin C and gives you a burst of refreshing flavor — and “vitamin C can help your gums heal,” says Leigh Anne Burns, MS, LDN/RD, a dietitian in practice with LSU Health in New Orleans. However, citrus foods are also highly acidic, which means they can cause enamel erosion, making you more susceptible to tooth decay. Adding an occasional squeeze of lemon or lime to your water is acceptable, but Burns recommends primarily enjoying these acidic fruits “at large meals.” That way, the saliva produced for the rest of the meal can help wash away acid and protect your teeth.
For good oral health, there’s no need to avoid the cheese plate at your next holiday party. Cheese contains casein, a protein with protective properties that helps fight cavities. It also contains calcium and phosphorus, which promote teeth re-mineralization, a naturally occurring process that helps prevent cavities, Rutledge explains. Calcium also helps promote overall bone health, and can be found in many dairy products, including yogurt and ice cream.
Candy may be a Halloween staple, but dentists stress that you should limit or avoid it due to its high sugar content. Bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar, producing acid that harms your teeth by wearing away the enamel. What’s more, Christmas favorites like toffee or candy canes are “sticky things that sit on the teeth,” says Matthew Messina, DDS, a dentist in practice in Fairview Park, Ohio, who is also a consumer advisor for the American Dental Association (ADA). If you do indulge in sweets, be sure to follow it up with drinking water or, even better, brushing and flossing.
LOVE: Berries (in Moderation)
Cranberries in the winter, huckleberries in the spring, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries through the summer. For every season there is a berry, and they're packed with nutrients that are great for your overall health. “Berries are full of vitamins and minerals, are high in antioxidants, and are naturally sweet, which can help satisfy a sweet craving,” Rutledge says. Just remember: berries can have an acidic quality, so it's best to combine them with yogurt or drink water after eating them to limit potential damage to your teeth.
LIMIT: Dried Fruit
Dried fruits often find their way into holiday gift baskets, seasonal salads, and Thanksgiving stuffing. But don’t be fooled into thinking that eating dried fruit is the same for your teeth as their fresh counterparts. Dried fruits such as raisins, prunes, and apricots stick to your teeth, which causes a breeding ground for bacteria, increasing the chance of enamel erosion, explains Burns. If you do decide to snack on dried fruits, Burns says your best bet might be to mix them with nuts (think: trail mix), which can help scrape dried fruit residue off your teeth.
Mixed nuts show up at almost every fall and winter gathering, from sporting events to holiday cocktail parties. “Chewing on a nut gives you satisfaction as you work your teeth, and they are full of nutrients like phosphorus and calcium,” says Shawn Adibi, DDS, MEd, a dentist and associate professor at the University of Texas School of Dentistry in Houston. He adds that many people unnecessarily avoid nuts out of fear that chewing them can cause your teeth to chip or crack, but your teeth “are supposed to be strong enough to eat nuts,” he says. Just be sure to shell nuts before you eat them, as shelling them with your teeth is what can cause damage, like chipping and cracking.
LIMIT: Coffee and Alcohol
It’s hard to limit these beverages around the holidays, but both coffee and alcohol can stain your teeth and dry out your mouth. “Bacteria that like a drier environment are more aggressive,” Messina says. The ADA warns that, over time, regularly drinking alcohol can lead to a much drier mouth, which increases the risk for both cavities and gum disease. Additionally, if you add sugar to your coffee, you may be doing even more damage to the enamel of your teeth. Many alcoholic beverages also contain sugar — and adding an acidic mixer to your drink can add to the harmful effects for your teeth.
LOVE: Crunchy Fruits and Veggies
Apple picking is a popular fall activity — and it’s good for your teeth, too. Apples, along with celery, carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli, are smart choices for your teeth because they pack a healthy crunch that can scrub your teeth — such as to dislodge some of the sticky sweets you might have been eating during holidays like Halloween, Hanukkah, or Christmas. Like leafy greens, these high-fiber foods also stimulate saliva, which helps clean your mouth. “From a dental perspective, the more crunchy foods in your diet, the better,” Messina says. For the best crunch, eat these foods raw.
Everything in Moderation
In general, you don’t need to deprive yourself of your favorite fall and winter treats to maintain a healthy mouth — just be sensible. A study of 533 adult men, 47 to 90 years old, found that those who followed a healthy diet — including dairy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein — had significantly fewer cavities than men who weren’t following those diet guidelines. The results were published in the September 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Association. “You can eat anything in moderation,” says Dr. Messina. “And make sure you brush twice a day, floss once a day, and see your dentist regularly.”