We have officially entered the holiday season, which means family gatherings and probably a lot of food and sweets, none more iconic to this time of year than the candy cane. They’re popping up everywhere as treats and decorations, but the peppermint that flavors them is also appearing in all sorts of places as well, begging the inevitable question, how good is it for your teeth? Perhaps better than you think.
Peppermint has been used to cure a number of ills for a long time, and continues to be one of the most well-known essential oils and medicinal herbs in the world. Recent scientific studies have found that peppermint fights anaerobic bacteria inside your mouth, which is what causes gum disease. Studies have also found peppermint oil to be more powerful than the active ingredient in most mouthwashes which helps to prevent the biofilm that causes cavities, and of course, peppermint is the flavor of choice to help keep breath fresh.
Using peppermint oil to take care of your teeth is a delicate process however, as essential oils are extremely concentrated and can cause more harm than good if too much is used. A drop or two to a cup of tea, or a single drop added to your toothpaste before brushing can do wonders for your overall gum health. A few drops added to some water can quickly freshen your breath, but too much of the oil can kill the healthy bacteria in your mouth or cause burns so use it sparingly. The fact that peppermint is good for your oral health does not mean that all peppermint flavored treats are good for you though. As delicious as peppermint bark is, white chocolate is full of sugar which is plaque’s favorite food and dairy, which is a leading cause of bad breath for many people. As for peppermint mochas, they’re mostly coffee with some peppermint flavoring, and the acidity in coffee can quickly erode tooth enamel, which can lead to multiple cavities in short order.
Now that you know the good and the bad about peppermint, what about some other popular holiday foods and the effect they can have on your teeth? It will probably come as little surprise that anything on the sweeter side of things, such as eggnog, pecan pie, and especially peanut brittle are best to be avoided. Eggnog contains both dairy and sugar, which in themselves are not a great combination for your teeth and breath, but if alcohol is added to it, acid damage also becomes a problem. Pecan pie, apart from the sugar, has plenty of nuts that could get lodged between teeth and cause a toothache or accidentally chip a tooth. You run the same risk while eating peanut brittle, but with the added danger of the sticky, hard caramel, which can dislodge crowns or rip out bridges if you aren’t careful. Savory holiday foods aren’t much better for your teeth unfortunately. Many savory holiday dishes such as stuffing, and other various casseroles that adorn family tables this time of year tend to be heavy in carbohydrates which will be broken down into sugars in your mouth, feeding the plaque on your teeth.
The holidays are a time to spend with friends and family, to let go just a little, and not feel too guilty about it as long you remember to take care of the essential things at the end (and the beginning) of the day. As bad as they are for your teeth, stuffing, eggnog, pecan pie, and many other things are delicious and are special holiday treats, and as long as you remember your daily dental tasks: brush twice a day for two minutes straight, and floss once a day. Keep your dentist’s phone number handy in case of a dental emergency, though keep in mind that their hours may change, as they deserve some time with their families too. Before the holidays get into their full swing though, if you have any questions about your oral health over the holidays or would like to schedule an appointment before, call Dr. Bruce Silva’s office. Our staff is happy to help you keep your teeth healthy and protected throughout the holidays and the rest of the year.