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Here come the holidays

and the holiday treats!

The holidays are such an exciting time. So much celebrating and gathering together! And while we celebrate, we munch away on all the amazing holiday treats. Who can resist? Unfortunately, as you enjoy the party in your mouth, all that sugar is wreaking havoc on your pearly whites. With Halloween not too far behind us and the biggest holidays of the year on the horizon, it’s good to know which sweets are the worst candy for teeth, and why. It’s also good strategy to have some healthy alternatives in mind for your kiddos.


Unfortunately, sugar is a major ingredient in most treats, such as cake, cookies and especially candy. One health risk, among many, of sugar is that it can affect your teeth.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), our mouths are loaded with germs known as bacteria. When the bacteria stick to teeth, they form a substance called plaque. Sugars from the foods we eat are consumed by the bacteria in the plaque and are turned into acids. These acids can dissolve the protective enamel on teeth, creating cavities. The end result is tooth decay and, potentially, tooth pain and sometimes loss.

Candy Culprits

Candy canes are an extremely popular treat during the holidays. Used as Christmas tree ornaments, stocking stuffers or stirrers in a cup of hot chocolate on a snowy day, candy canes seem like they’re everywhere. Unfortunately, since candy canes are 100 percent sugar, they should be near the top of any list of the worst candy for teeth around the holidays.

Chewy candies are another perpetrator of tooth damage. Caramel is a great example of a chewy candy that may hit your sweet spot, but is guaranteed to stay there for some time. Caramel sticks to your teeth, which gives it staying power that provides bacteria with ample opportunity to consume the sugar, according to Ohio-based dentist Matthew Messina, a spokesman for the American Dental Association.

Hard candies have their own way of damaging teeth, Messina notes. Although chewy candy nests on teeth, hard candy dissolves in your mouth over a slow period, allowing the bacteria access to more sugar. Another concern with hard candies is for those who can’t resist biting them: doing so can result in chipped or broken teeth.

Sweet Treats

Though not specifically candy, a few other sweet holiday treats to watch out for are apple cider, hot chocolate and eggnog. All three of these beverages have high sugar contents and are very popular at this time of year.

Handy Tips

Sugar seems to be the main ingredient in most holiday recipes, so we’ve come up with a list of treats that will be a little kinder to your oral health.

  • Soft treats – As a rule, softer is better. Whether it’s a cake, pie, cookie or brownie, soft foods are much easier on your teeth. Try to avoid hard candies like peanut brittle or sticky treats like taffy and caramel. And if you can’t resist that colorful hard tack candy, do resist crunching down on it and chewing it up. These types of foods, whether hard or gooey, chewing them can break teeth and damage prior dental work like fillings and crowns.
  • Cheese – Dairy products can actually counteract acidic foods, helping to protect your teeth from tooth decay.
  • Chocolate – While there is, indeed, sugar in chocolate, it’s really only harmful to your teeth if you don’t brush it away shortly after eating it and sticky foods tend to stay stuck in cracks, crevices and in between teeth even after brushing!
  • Fruit parfaits – Fruit, yogurt, whip cream, nuts, granola – all of these things are great for your teeth, and much healthier option than food with processed white sugars.

Healthy Alternatives

One way to minimize your mouth’s exposure to holiday candies is by eating healthy snacks. Fresh fruits, such as strawberries and melons, are nutritious, healthy alternatives to candy or sugary desserts. Low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese, unbuttered popcorn and baked tortilla chips are excellent alternatives to fatty snacks and appetizers, along with raw veggies like carrots and celery.

Making it through the holidays without eating any type of sugary candy or treats at all is probably not a realistic expectation. Remember, no matter what treat you choose, whether it’s sugary or not, it’s important to brush shortly eating. Allowing foods to sit on your teeth is when the trouble starts. With proper oral care, including brushing and flossing, you can still enjoy the great treats the holidays have to offer without worrying about your smile.

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