Thanksgiving is a special time of year when we gather with family and friends to take a moment to appreciate all that we are blessed with. Whether your traditions center on football, shopping, or story-telling, one tradition is consistent from family to family: the Thanksgiving feast. Typical fare consists of a delectable turkey served with an array of fixings like stuffing, green beans, sweet potatoes, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, and don’t forget the pie. Pumpkin, pecan, or apple; they’re all popular choices on this very festive day. Just thinking about the feast makes my mouth water, which is actually a very good thing, considering I’ll need my saliva to be on high alert this Thursday. You see, saliva helps cleanse the mouth by washing away food and bacteria, which will be essential after the assault I will inevitably facilitate on the enamel of my teeth. While parts of the Thanksgiving schmorgesborg are actually good for oral health, there are several components that can be quite destructive.
According to the Science Daily article, “For Your Teeth, Thanksgiving Dinner Is a Real Food Fight,” the bacteria that live in the mouth (S. mutans predominantly) feed off of sugars, stick onto teeth, and then create acids that eat away at enamel, ultimately causing cavities and decay. Dental researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center are currently conducting studies that explore which foods give the most destructive strength to the bacteria versus others that actually help prevent cavities. Led by Hyun “Michel” Koo, D.D.S, Ph.D., researchers are discovering which parts of your holiday meal are harmful, and which may be helpful. For instance, the team found that the combination of sugar and complex carbohydrates, or starches, kicked the S. mutans into high gear, causing the most destruction to enamel. In essence, that sweet potato casserole, topped with ooey, gooey marshmallows, which you’ve been dreaming of, is actually a cavity waiting to happen (shocking, I know!). It seems as though most dishes on the holiday table are riddled with both starches and sugars, so how on Earth are your teeth going to make it out intact? Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom.
There have been a few morsels of good news about your holiday provisions to come out of the recent research. It turns out that cranberry is quite effective in combating S. mutans, that nasty bacterium mentioned earlier that has the ability to form plaque. Plaque takes the appearance of white muck along our teeth and provides a hide-out for the bacteria that create enamel-destroying acid. Koo has discovered that compounds found within cranberry make plaque vulnerable and more easily destroyed. Scientists are currently trying to isolate this compound in hopes that it may one day be used in a variety of products, like toothpastes and mouthwashes, to battle tooth decay. Similarly, Koo and other researchers have found that the waste from the red-wine-making process (fermented seeds and skins that are tossed after grapes are pressed) also contain compounds that fight S. mutans, reducing the amount of acid the bacteria produces. These are both exciting finds in the world of oral health and scientists agree that the fight against plaque and tooth decay could get a bit easier to win.
While the research shows great promise for improvement in oral health, Koo points out that simply eating more cranberries and consuming more wine on Thanksgiving are not going to protect your teeth from the harmful effects of all the other indulgences. He suggests that everything you’ve ever been told by your dentist is still your best bet. Like any other day, on Thanksgiving, it is recommended to brush at least twice, floss, and avoid excessive sugar if possible. And if you do indulge (let’s be honest, who doesn’t?) then brush your teeth again. He also suggests using a mouth rinse, specifically containing fluoride, and as always, visit your dentist regularly. So, go ahead and enjoy those holiday treats, but be sure to remember your dental hygiene routine. From all of us at Miami Dental Sedation Spa, have a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday!