Smile Bright This Holiday Season

a young boy in a Santa costume with his thumb up

by Di Salas, Hawaii Dental Service

The holidays are here. And that means the peppermint candy canes, colorful gumdrops, star-shaped sprinkles on the frosted cupcakes, and every other imaginable sweet treat will be calling out to keiki and their parents at parties and potlucks. Even the pieces of candy to make the gingerbread house may prove to be too tempting.

But no one likes to be reminded that too much sugar is bad for our teeth. So, what are some practical ways we can enjoy holiday treats without compromising our oral health and start the new year without a mouthful of cavities?

A Mini-Science Lesson on Tooth Decay

It helps to understand the science of tooth decay. Cavities start when acid is produced from plaque that builds up on our teeth. Sugar serves as food for the bacteria in the plaque that produces the damaging acid. When we allow sugar to linger on our teeth, it gives more time for bacteria in our mouths to produce the acid that harms our teeth. This acid slowly dissolves the layer of enamel on our teeth, creating holes or cavities in our teeth. This can eventually lead to painful toothaches and gum disease if left untreated.

Instead of abstaining from celebrating the holidays with special treats altogether, parents can help their children learn to take control of their oral health.

a family of three making holiday cookies
There’s no denying that this time of year often means indulging in sweet treats and savory dishes.

Tips for Healthy Holiday Smiles

Here are seven practical tips to maintain a healthy smile during the holidays.

  1. Avoid certain types of sugary foods that are more likely to cause tooth decay. For example, gummy candy is more likely to stick to our teeth which can lead to tooth decay. Don’t worry about hurting Auntie’s feelings when you politely decline her offer of chocolate-covered gummy bears!
  2. If you do succumb to temptation and have a few pieces of candy, don’t despair. Be sure to brush and floss your teeth soon after to minimize the chance of acid forming that can lead to tooth decay. And always stick to a regular schedule for daily oral health hygiene, even during the holidays.
  3. If aren’t able to brush and floss your teeth immediately after indulging in some sweets, do the next best thing: drink plenty of water to wash away the sugar from your teeth. This simple trick of drinking water after eating sweets is also a good way to stay hydrated and that’s good for your overall health.
  4. Parents, try to avoid adult beverages that contain a lot of acid, which can wear away the protective enamel on your teeth over time.
  5. When you eat or drink high-acid foods, consider eating some cheese to help neutralize the acid. The science of food shows the alkaline in cheese can do wonders! Stay by the cheese platter at your next party.
  6. There may be a lot of packages to open during the holidays, but try to avoid using your teeth to open bottles or tear open packages. These activities can damage your teeth.
  7. Many are motivated to take care of their teeth and consider not going to the dentist as their reward. Visiting a dentist on a regular basis should be part of your overall oral health regimen. Dentists can thoroughly clean your teeth and detect potential issues early to take corrective action and avoid costly emergency procedures down the road.

The American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Public Health Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend parents take their children to see a dentist before their first birthday to ensure their baby teeth provide the foundation for permanent teeth.

dentist showing young patient a model of teeth
Start the year off right by scheduling a dental check-up after the holidays.

Finding a Dentist is Easy!

Consider making dental appointments for everyone in your family before the start of the new year; or if schedules become too hectic during this time of year, make it a priority to see a dentist as one of your new year’s resolutions to start 2024 off with a healthier smile!

If you don’t have a dentist for you or your child, HDS makes finding a dentist easy. Simply go to the HDS website. Once there, simply follow the prompts to find a dentist. You can search for dentists by their first name, last name, zip code of their practice, specialty, and the dentist’s provider network.

Using the Advanced Filters options, you can refine your search by hours of operation, gender of the dentist, proximity to public transportation, wheelchair accessibility, languages spoken, and whether the dentist accepts children under age one and accepts children or adult patients with special needs.

little girl smiling while brushing her teeth
Give your child the lifelong gift of healthy brushing habits.

Holiday Gifts for Healthy Smiles

A number of gifts will put a smile on the faces of recipients, now and for their entire lifetime.

Mini-Dental Kit: Knowing that healthy teeth and gums depend on frequent cleaning, consider giving a mini-dental kit, complete with a toothbrush, dental floss, toothpaste, and a tiny bottle of mouthwash. These are ideal for traveling. Consider adding a fluoride toothpaste with a special flavor to make your gift memorable.

Electric Toothbrush: The gift of an electric toothbrush is ideal to help others thoroughly clean their teeth and gumline. It’s the perfect gift for kupuna who may have difficulty holding a regular toothbrush because of arthritis or other health conditions. The American Dental Association recommends replacing a toothbrush every three to four months or more often if the bristles are visibly matted or frayed. For the same reason, the replacement head of an electric toothbrush should also be replaced every three months, so be sure to give extra replacement heads as well.

Water Flossers: A water flosser is another practical gift. It uses water pressure to clean particles from the crevices between teeth and below the gum line.

Sugarless Gum: Sugarless gum is another valuable gift. It’s a healthier alternative to gum that contains sugar. It can help remove food particles and boost saliva production, both of which help to curb the production of acid-forming bacteria. Some studies show cinnamon also enhances oral health, thanks to its antibacterial and antimicrobial activity.

By following these tips, you can help ensure that your child’s smile stays bright and healthy this holiday season. So go ahead and show off those pearly whites – and don’t forget to spread some cheer along the way!

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