Thanksgiving comes in second only to Christmas when it comes to favorite holidays in the U.S.A. In fact, almost a fifth of the country ranks it as their favorite. Compare that to New Year’s Eve, which gets only 2% of the vote as a “favorite” holiday. Even if you aren’t part of the group who loves Thanksgiving most of all, you probably enjoy the holiday as a time to see family, eat delicious food, and take a day (or more) off work.
There’s certainly no shortage of “elastic waistband” jokes surrounding the holiday, so it’s no surprise that Thanksgiving is filled with food—in excess. And while we know what the extra helping of stuffing can do to the number on the scale, do we regularly take into consideration how the food on the table can affect our teeth?
We at Mark C. Marchbanks, D.D.S. are here to take that into consideration for you!
We aren’t just talking about the dessert table, either. The whole spread of food at Thanksgiving has implications (good and bad) for your dental health. Here at our Arlington office, we don’t want you to stress about what to eat, we just want to raise awareness. Take a look at our list of traditional dishes you might see this week and learn just how—from best to worst—these foods affect your teeth.
As the superstar of the Thanksgiving meal, the good news is that turkey is one of the best things you can pile on your plate! Since it is both packed with protein and low in sugar, it will keep you full longer without harming your teeth. Dark meat contains significantly more fat than light meat, especially when you leave the skin on. By opting for light meat, you are choosing both a low-calorie and low-fat alternative. Be aware that turkey can easily get tuck between your teeth, so don’t forget to floss.
The cheese plate
If you see a cheese plate out for appetizers, don’t feel like you should skip it to save room! Cheese are rich in calcium and phosphorus and can protect tooth enamel and even help replace minerals in teeth. Cheese is especially beneficial for your dental health because it contains casein, a protein found in milk products that can shore up enamel.
When we recommend sweet potatoes, we actually mean sweet potatoes in their most natural state, not the marshmallow-topped casserole variety! Sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamins A and C, which help keep your gums healthy. Another benefit to sweet potato is that there are numerous ways it can be prepared without having to resort to the classic casserole.
While we don’t expect you to serve a plate of onions on its own, we do want to encourage you to add them into other dishes! Onions contain compounds that kill bacteria in your mouth that can cause harm to your teeth and gums. Raw onions are best for this purpose, but we know they’re more likely to show up in other cooked dishes for flavor.
Including cranberries (the actual fruit, not what comes out of a can) on your table can help protect your teeth by interfering with the oral bacteria that forms plaque. In addition, cranberries are rich in nutrients like vitamins C and A, beta-carotene and potassium, among others. Though, since cranberries are naturally tart, beware of any recipes that call for significant amounts of sugar.
Now, some people see the bread simply as the “space filler” on a plate. Don’t pile the rolls on in vein, however, because these kinds of starchy foods are full of sugary carbohydrates, which build up bacteria in the mouth that lead to cavities. If you sincerely want to indulge, just make sure to have a few drinks of water afterward to wash away bready debris.
Green bean casserole
Do you know the perfect way to hide vegetables? Throw it in a casserole and spread fried onions on top! While delicious, it really has no nutritional value. After cooking the green beans and pouring creamy soup on top, there is nothing redeeming left. Instead, opt for fresh (not canned) green beans and cook them with a little bacon and onion to add flavor. Even with the fat from the bacon, you will be saving calories while consuming healthy fiber.
In addition to delicious foods, some of us like to include Thanksgiving libations in our holiday spread. The occasional glass of holiday wine or beer is totally fine. Some studies show that red wine may even be good for your heart health in moderation.
Still, be wise about your alcohol consumption. Too much alcohol on a regular basis can reduce beneficial saliva production and erode tooth enamel (especially hard liquor).
Interestingly, if you’ve had a recent dental cleaning and therefore have smoother teeth with less buildup, stains have a harder time settling into your teeth! Be sure to get regular cleanings and, of course, brush and floss regularly. And if you choose to indulge in drinks, sip water at the same time.
Pecan pie is traditionally made with a good amount corn syrup or brown sugar, which only contributes sugar and calories to your plate. In addition, the crust can be a major source of fat—especially saturated fat. Although pecans themselves have many healthy attributes, more pecan doesn’t mean that pie is healthier. The sticky nature of the pie combined with chewy pecans (that can easily get lodged in your teeth and cause cavities) can be a brutal combination.
In addition, the corn syrup (which is primarily sugar) can create a film on your teeth that can lead to decay. If you have the choice, always choose pumpkin pie over pecan to preserve your teeth.
After the holiday season, it’s important to schedule a cleaning with your dentist. This will ensure all the holiday food and buildup are professional cleaned off your teeth.
We’re so thankful for our patients and Arlington, TX community, and hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving!