The holidays create a a perplexing situation for me as a dentist. I love our family traditions, and get a little nostalgic when I think of making Christmas cookies with my kids and buying homemade candy canes and ribbon candy at Fabianos Candies. My husband and I started these traditions based on our experiences as children, and we certainly don’t want our kids to miss out on the fun experiences we had as kids. Yet, the better educated dentist in me, recognizes the overly sugared culture we have created by falling in love with these traditions and moments of pleasure.
So what is a family to do around the holidays when sugar plums dance in our heads? And, what about the gingerbread house kits that taunt us at every corner? Here are some suggestions to help you tame the sugar in your household this holiday season.
- A little goes a long way. When making a gingerbread house, for example, add in some dried fruit. Dried pineapple shingles might look nice. Pick out two or three favorite candies instead of five. There will be less leftovers to eat once the gingerbread house is made. Throw out the extras once you make the house. Nibble along the way, if desired, but once the project is completed, get rid of the extras. Enjoy the process and the time spent together making and nibbling, and then be done with the candy.
- Remember the 25 grams recommendation. The World Health Organization recommends 25 grams of sugar per day for adults. That is about 6 teaspoons of sugar. This helps to reverse brainwash us into less sugar. Our society has sugared us to death–literally–with little regard for the amount of sugar we consume. Most people have no idea how much sugar they consume in a day. It’s hidden in a lot of foods. Start looking at the packaging and take a mental note of how many grams of sugar are in each food product you consume. It’s scary, but also empowering to learn so much about our food systems. With that knowledge in mind, consider your sugary traditions carefully. Maybe it’s a bad idea to make fudge and decorate Hanukkah cookies on the same day? Spread those sugary events apart, and limit the amount eaten in a day.
- Watch out for holiday mixers and punches. Liquid sugar is often forgotten when it comes to our teeth and our body health. Punch and cookies? Oh dear. Serve up milk and cookies instead. There are little ways to modify our diets and our traditions without giving up everything. As we modify our choices and re-think our habits, it is possible to lessen the sugar consequences in our lives without missing out on the fun.
- Give away something healthy this holiday season. Lessen the sugar temptation on neighbors and friends by giving them the gift of a fresh fruit basket or something homemade. Ripened pears and crisp apples are sweet and tasty, too.
- Family holiday feasts and work celebrations do not have to include decadent desserts and never-ending food choices. Meet up at a bowling alley or a skating rink and move your bodies as much as you move your mouths. If you do gather at a home or work, encourage everyone to go for a walk after a meal, or encourage a family activity like sledding or hiking. Make sure there are ample people assigned to bring salads and veggies for any gathering.
- Avoid peer pressure and family pressure to make your famous chocolates or cinnamon rolls. Come up with a new healthier tradition, and tell the family you changed because you care about their health. There are many tasty recipes that have less sugar. Your family will still love you, even if you don’t bring your sweet treat. Or, decrease the amount you bring and cut it into smaller pieces.
- Focus on friends and family members rather than the food. Fill friends up with conversation. Fill family up with your attention and listening ear. It’s amazing how satisfying a good conversation can be. Yes, food is lovely, too, but people can make us laugh and release dopamine, the same neurotransmitter that is released when we eat sugar.
- I realize not all family members evoke our pleasure centers, so take in cranky relatives or co-workers in moderation this season. These people can trigger our stress responses that help us release adrenaline. Adrenaline can make us feel sweaty and shaky at first. But, after the effects wear off, we can feel low on energy and want food. Additionally, many people eat when they are stressed. With extra goodies around during these stressful times, you can see where the problems for our teeth and bodies occur. Try to get rid of leftover sweets, and certainly do not offer to take home the extras from holiday parties.
- Try not to overeat. Overeating can cause acid reflux to occur. The stomach gets so full, and it cannot digest all of the food before we lie down to sleep. Acid can come back up through the esophagus and create a high acid level in our mouths. This causes erosion on teeth, and it can increase our chances for cavities to form.
From eggnog to cookie walks, there are endless temptations this holiday season. Know your weaknesses, and minimize the opportunities to indulge. If you do indulge, brush and floss your teeth before entering bed. This will not guarantee a cavity free checkup, but it will help remove much of the sticky plaque that traps the bacteria that helps cause cavities. Never nibble on sugary things throughout the day. Never sip on sugary beverages throughout the day. These two things increase the time sugar is in your mouth, and that increases the acid levels in your mouth. The longer the acid level in your mouth remains close to a pH of 5 or below, the easier it is for more teeth to break down and form cavities and possibly develop pain.
Last, I would be remiss if I did not actively recommend regular dental check ups. Let us take a look at your mouth every six months or so. I also like to take x-ray pictures every 1-2 years to catch anything in between or below the teeth that may be developing that cannot be seen with a visual examination.
Our teeth are so vital to our overall health. With strong teeth, we can chew all of the crunchy foods we want, and we can smile with confidence for those treasured holiday photos. Teeth are in need of regular care to maintain them forever. I would be honored to be your teeth coach for your lifetime. If no one has helped you or your family with their oral health in quite some time, take a moment today to prioritize your health, and make an appointment with us. Call us at 517-332-1000, and let us answer any of your questions or concerns. With almost twenty years as a dentist, I am certain I can answer your questions and provide amazing, safe, and long lasting care for you.
Enjoy your holidays!
Dr. Lisa Knowles