The holidays are upon us, and there are lots of tasty treats to try at parties and family gatherings.christmas-316448_640

But before you belly up to the buffet, keep in mind that some items might damage your orthodontic appliances. Even if you’re not in orthodontic treatment, following our advice and avoiding these bad habits can help you keep your smile healthy as the year draws to an end.

Following are eight holiday habits that can harm your teeth, along with our advice on how to avoid them, as well as some healthier alternatives.

1. Eating too many sticky, hard or chewy treats

Lots of holiday treats are packed with taffy, caramel and nuts. If you’re traveling north to experience a white Christmas, keep in mind that cooler temperatures can make taffy and caramel even tougher on your teeth. Biting into these snacks if you are in orthodontic treatment and have brackets and arch wires can damage those appliances. Damaged appliances often can’t apply the proper forces to your teeth, and if you’re out of town, getting your appliances fixed over the holidays can be difficult. This means your treatment will be set back a bit.

Even if you aren’t in braces, sticky, chewy snacks have been known to pull fillings out of teeth. They also get stuck in the grooves of your teeth longer than other types of snacks, and they promote plaque and tartar accumulation.

If you’re going to indulge in these types of treats, remember to enjoy them in moderation. The experts over at Delta Dental recommend eating them along with other foods to help prevent them from sticking to your teeth

2. Crunching on ice

This is something to keep in mind if you’re staying in the greater Miami area for the holidays, where we’re expecting balmy weather through the end of the month. Let the ice in your beverages cool your drinks, not break your teeth. Crunching ice can crack and chip teeth. Those repairs can be costly.

3. Using your teeth to crack nuts and open things

Your teeth have a job to do, but it doesn’t include removing corks or caps from bottles, cracking nuts or tearing into plastic packaging. Preserve your smile by using the right tools for the job.

4. Biting your nails and chewing on your cuticles

We get it. The holidays can be stressful. There’s the travel, but also the occasional strained relationship with a relative. Find healthy ways to battle stress instead of taking it out on your fingers and fingernails. Did you know that nail-biting also is linked to other unhealthy oral habits such as teeth grinding, jaw clenching and tooth sensitivity?

5. Oral piercings

You would find it difficult to find a dentist or an orthodontist who is a fan of oral piercings. Please don’t put “lip ring” or “tongue ring” on your wish list to Santa this holiday season. Having metallic or ceramic jewelry in your mouth increases the risk of harming your teeth and gums. Often, the wearer simply cannot resist the urge to play with their piercing. Doing so can create abnormal wear patterns in your teeth. It also can chip or crack your teeth if you accidentally bite down on your piercing. Finally, piercings can lead to gum recession, which can usher in a host of other dental problems.

6. Drinking too many carbonated soft drinks, energy drinks and sports drinkssoft-drink-ice-cubes

Does part of your tradition include a pickup football game after your holiday meal? Play on, but avoid the sports drinks when it’s time to rehydrate, and choose water instead. Sports drinks are packed with sugar, in addition to the electrolytes you’re getting from them.

Soft drinks and energy drinks have the same problem. Many flavors of these popular drinks also contain acidic flavor additives, in addition to 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar, which further increases the risk of developing cavities, experts say.

7. Brushing your teeth too hard or too often

Let’s say you went for all the sweet treats and soft drinks for dessert, but you’re determined to cleanse all the sugars and acids from your teeth with a good scrubbing. You load up your toothbrush with toothpaste and really apply some muscle as you brush. You could do more harm than good by applying too much force when brushing, particularly if your toothbrush bristles are hard.

Vigorously brushing your teeth can cause your enamel to wear away faster. It also can cause gum recession, which can lead to increased tooth sensitivity when too much of the tooth root becomes exposed.

8. Not wearing a mouth guard while playing contact sports

That pickup football game designed to work off your holiday meal may seem innocent enough, but these are situations that are ripe for oral trauma. Informal games that are heavy on contact and light on safety equipment can leave you vulnerable to a blow to the mouth from an errant elbow or overthrown pass. Do your teeth a favor and wear a mouth guard. You can find boil-and-bite types in most athletic stores. These can be fitted to your unique bite.

Other Ways to Avoid Causing Harm During the Holidays

You’ll bit more successful at keeping your teeth healthy during the holidays if you follow this advice:

  • Choose sugar-free options when you can. Go for unsweetened tea, diet drinks and good old-fashioned water to accompany your meals and snacks. Look for treats that are sugar-free or sweetened with xylitol.
  • Chew sugar-free gum after meals. If you aren’t in conventional braces, chewing gum after meals helps clean your teeth when your toothbrush isn’t handy. Chewing gum increases saliva production, which washes away oral bacteria. It also can help dislodge food particles stuck in the grooves of your teeth.
  • Keep oral care products such as dental floss and proxy brushes handy, particularly if you’re in conventional braces. Flossing can remove food particles and plaque in the areas that even your toothbrush can’t reach, and decrease your risk of oral health problems, according to Delta Dental. Soft-picks and proxy brushes enable you to dislodge bits of food that may become wedged between your teeth and your orthodontic appliances.
  • Have your emergency dental contacts on hand. If you damage your teeth during the holidays, someone may be able to talk you through a temporary fix until you’re back in town, or they can refer you to someone local for a significant problem.

We hope you’ve found this information useful, and we hope you enjoy the holidays!