The good news is, NO, Thanksgiving is not bad for your teeth.
The bad news is that, YES, Thanksgiving can include some detrimental effects on your oral health. We’ll explain how that can happen, and we’ll follow with what you can do to prevent that. We want you to have the happiest and healthiest Thanksgiving yet!
Which Traditional Thanksgiving Foods are Potentially Harmful to the Health of Your Mouth?
When it comes to our traditional thanksgiving fare, most of it is relatively healthy and non-damaging to the teeth and gums. Here are a few special considerations.
Turkey is not bad for you. It is a healthy, lean source of protein and other nutrients. The only risk with turkey is its stringy consistency. People with small gaps between the teeth have a tendency to collect stringy meats during meals. This food impaction can be harmful to the gums.
In general, if you floss and remove the debris relatively soon after the meal, you should suffer no lingering effects. If you go into a tryptophan-induced food coma, leaving loads of turkey tidbits jammed in your gums, you could develop some inflammation (gingivitis).
Cranberries are a staple for many celebrating a traditional Thanksgiving meal. These tart berries can damage tooth enamel because they have a very low (acidic) pH. This is especially risky when you snack on fresh cranberries over a prolonged period of time.
This keeps the pH inside your mouth lower than the threshold necessary for enamel erosion.
Some people also make a cranberry salad that adds sugar to the mix. Sugar + acid = high cavity risk!
Just enjoy your cranberries with the Thanksgiving meal and not as a snack.
Pecan Pie (or anything with a sticky sugar topping)
Which pie is your go-to for a traditional Thanksgiving meal? Many people offer a variety of pies for dessert, and pecan pies are often a favorite. The sticky, gooey texture and sugary topping of a pecan pie keeps sugar in the grooves of the teeth for a longer length of time. This sugar adhesion increases the risk for cavities.
We know. Sometimes this is the essential ingredient to surviving a Thanksgiving event with family. We are not telling you to skip the wine. Just be aware that wine is both high in sugar and acidic in pH, making it a powerful cavity-causer.
Try to enjoy your wine with your meal, when saliva is flowing and fighting acid attacks. Periodically, swish your mouth with plain water to quickly neutralize your mouth and protect your enamel.
What Other Aspects of Thanksgiving can Affect Your Oral Health?
Being off from work and school and traveling to the homes of friends and family can get us off schedule from our good oral hygiene routine at bedtime. The post-Thanksgiving food coma contributes to a lack of motivation to diligently brush and floss at night.
Most people tend to have more snacks and treats out during the holidays, too. Snacking between meals can lead to a higher risk for cavities. Add to that the reduced consistency of oral hygiene, and oral health tends to slip a bit.
Make it a goal to remain consistent, no matter where you may be this week, to brush and floss well before bed every night. You can keep your mouth healthy and still enjoy all the Thanksgiving fun!