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Holiday Sweets Can Be Tough On Teeth

Holiday Feature

DENTON — Visions of sugarplums — and cakes and cookies —dance in the heads of children and adults alike during the holiday season. All that sweetness can take a toll on teeth, however.

Though most people associate sugar with cavities, Dr. Nancy Glick, a dental hygiene professor at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, says cooked starches as well as foods containing sugar make up fermentable carbohydrates, one of three elements that must be present for decay to occur.

Dr. Glick said other links in the “chain of decay” are acid-producing oral bacteria and a susceptible tooth surface, or one that has a low-fluoride content. Removing any of these three links can help prevent tooth decay, she said. However, she noted that reducing fermentable carbohydrates may not be a practical approach, “especially for adults, because our dietary habits are pretty set.”

Strengthening the tooth surface can be achieved through brushing with a fluoride toothpaste, she said. Topical fluorides applied in a dentist’s office and over-the-counter fluoride rinses also may be beneficial.

Reducing acid-producing bacteria — another link in the “chain of decay” — calls for conscientious oral hygiene, which means brushing and flossing correctly, Dr. Glick said.

Proper brushing and flossing isn’t always possible during the hectic holiday season, but Dr. Glick said there are other steps people can take to ward off tooth decay.

If holiday parties feature an assortment of food, such as fresh fruit and vegetable plates or meat and cheese platters, Dr. Glick recommends sampling some of those foods in addition to cookies and candy that contain sugar.

“Sugar is particularly harmful if eaten between meals,” she said. “If it is eaten in combination with other foods, however, sugar loses some of its decay potential.”

Though brushing and flossing are the best way to prevent cavities, time and place don’t always allow for complete dental care. Dr. Glick recommends rinsing your mouth with water or chewing sugarless gum when brushing isn’t possible. Rinsing dilutes the amount of acid in the mouth, she said, and chewing sugarless gum stimulates the flow of saliva, which has many good properties that prevent decay.

Those with good eating habits throughout the year shouldn’t worry about indulging a bit over the holidays, Dr. Glick said, adding that this is true for children as well as adults. Children who have good eating habits and who practice good oral hygiene won’t be harmed by occasional sweets, she said.

“Decay is a long, slow process — it takes place over months to years,” she said. Proper brushing, flossing and diet all play a role in interrupting that process and promoting good dental health.


Dr. Nancy Glick, a dental hygiene professor at Texas Woman’s University, offers the following brushing tips for good dental health:

  • Place the brush where the tooth and gums meet, holding the brush at a 45-degree angle to the tooth. The highest concentration of bacteria is found where the tooth and gums meet, Dr. Glick said. After placing the brush, move it gently back and forth in short, vibrating strokes for a count of 10. Both the outer and inner tooth surfaces should be brushed in this manner.


  • Brushing the tongue not only helps freshen breath; it also helps prevent tooth decay by reducing bacteria in the mouth.


  • Brush and floss at bedtime. Saliva, which dilutes and neutralizes decay-producing acids, is reduced while we sleep. Brushing at bedtime lowers the bacterial count in the mouth and helps prevent cavities from forming.


For Further Information Contact:

Karen Treat
Senior Copywriter
Tel: (940) 898-3456