Most people know the damage the Christmas period can do to their waistlines, but few are worrying about their teeth. The amount of sugar we consume throughout Christmas is just astonishing so keeping teeth healthy and clean during the festive season is vital during this busy time of year.
BUPA reckon that on Christmas Day, the average adult consumes around 160g of sugar. That’s an incredible 32 teaspoons full of sugar and more than six times the NHS’s recommended maximum daily amount. It’s easy to forget that most processed foods these days contain some sugar. A Christmas Day breakfast of say a muffin, smoked salmon and poached eggs will contain extra added sugar in everything except for the eggs, and even an evening snack of crackers and cheese will sneak a sugary coating around your teeth unless you actually make the crackers yourself.
Mince pies and Christmas treats are arriving ever earlier in our supermarkets too. Even if you don’t succumb to the temptation and eat them in September, most people are having the odd seasonal nibble at the start of December. A little piece of stollen here, an Xmas biscuit there, one of Nana’s Quality Street toffees which you regretted afterwards, the list goes on. And don’t forget the almost pure-sugar mouthwash of your favourite tipple. Action on Sugar reveals a shocking list of the amount of sugar in our favourite drinks – mulled wine is an obvious culprit, but choose a Malibu & Coke or even a ‘healthy choice’ vodka & cranberry juice and you’re still bathing your teeth in 8 teaspoons of sugar!
For children, it can be even worse. Although I would hate to ban them, chocolate advent calendars are some of the worst ‘presents’ for children’s teeth at this time of year. Most of them are filled with a little choccie ready to bathe your little one’s teeth in sugar right from the start of the day. Starting off the chocolate-fest on 1st December they continue for an unrelenting 24 day sugar-marathon. With an average 56g of sugar in a basic Cadbury’s advent calendar, that’s about half a teaspoon every day even before breakfast. Then we have the Christmas chocolate celebration boxes, edible surprises hanging on the Christmas tree, extra treats in the Christmas stocking and so on.
So what can we do to protect our teeth at this time of year? Well, obvious things like swapping out your normal drinks for a low-sugar or sugar-free version is a good start. As is keeping anything sugary to the same time as a meal and brush your teeth afterwards. If that’s too tricky or just not ‘Christmassy’ enough, then try and keep your sugary treats for the afternoon or even better, the evening when it’s not long before your next teeth clean. That way you’ll have a sugar-free morning and won’t spread out the sugariness throughout the day; the worst thing for your teeth is to get a steady and regular dose of sugar.
Making your own mince pies, Christmas cake and Christmas pudding can all help you cut down the sugar. With the average shop-bought mince pie containing around 20g of sugar, you can make one yourself for about 3g – there’s a great low-sugar recipe here.
If you’re anything like my household, it’s a bit of a rush to head out of the door in the morning, but getting the kids to brush their teeth before they leave is one of the most important things you can insist on. Cleaning off the plaque that has built up overnight as well as saying goodbye to the remnants of the chocolate reindeer they’ve just consumed is the best start to the day. As is making sure that they’ve got a good toothbrush. Most kids under the age of 12 just don’t clean their teeth well enough. They’re easily distracted and may do one section well but only skim over another part of their mouth. They’re also easily bored and rarely spend enough time brushing their teeth. Using a good electric toothbrush is really essential for toddlers and children – our reviews of the best children’s toothbrushes should help.
If you’re doing all that and you want to feel a little less guilty about the advent calendar, try a non-chocolate one instead. John Lewis and Argos both do a great range of quite reasonable toy advent calendars, and you could always incentivise yourself with a beauty or pamper calendar (good ones at M&S or John Lewis) and a great selection of alternative advent calendars: beauty, herbal tea, and even socks at Boots.com – any of which certainly helps to make up for the lack of chocolate!
Whatever changes you can make, remember that every little helps. Anything you do to reduce your sugar, or the amount your kids eat, will help keep their teeth for Christmases to come.