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Give Thanks for Your Smile

Family celebrating a holiday at the dinner table

Every November, millions sit down around the dinner table to share the ways they are thankful for one another. They also enjoy a Thanksgiving feast, one of the most anticipated meals of the year!

With traditional dishes like mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie, Turkey Day is overflowing with everyone’s favorite comfort foods – but unfortunately, those foods are often also loaded with starches and sugars that can damage your teeth, contribute to gum disease, and negatively influence your health in general.

So, as you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner and consider what you’re grateful for, take a moment to recognize the connection between your diet, your smile, and your overall well-being.

Your Mouth in Action

One thing to give thanks for during the meal? The way your teeth, mouth, and tongue work together to make sure you can chew, taste, and enjoy your food:

  • Incisors are the middlemost four teeth on your upper and lower jaws. They cut into food like a serrated knife cuts turkey.
  • Canines are the four sharp and pointed teeth on either side of your incisors. Canine teeth help your mouth grip and tear foods like dinner rolls or a turkey leg.
  • Premolars and molars come next. Premolars begin next to your canines, while molars are in the very back of your mouth. They have a series of elevations (points or ‘cusps’) that are used to crush and grind everything from soft stuffing to crunchy carrot sticks.
  • Saliva helps break down starchy foods and cleanse the mouth between bites.
  • Your tongue has taste buds that allow you to savor the flavor of your Thanksgiving feast.

The Effects of Thanksgiving Treats on Our Teeth

We all enjoy treats in moderation and it’s certainly okay to indulge in grandma’s famous pumpkin pie or another sugary treat after the main course. Just make sure that you don’t overdo it! That’s because many holiday sides and desserts do more than just taste delicious:

  • Sugary treats like cranberry sauce and pecan pie can strengthen the bacteria in your mouth.
  • Bacteria mix with the sugar in these foods, eventually creating acids that eat away at your tooth’s enamel.
  • Left unaddressed, this can lead to cavities and, eventually, more extensive oral health problems.

If you want to make your big meal better for your well-being, look for opportunities to swap out less healthy ingredients with more nutritious options. Baked sweet potatoes instead of candied yams, for example, or apple slices with cinnamon instead of a Dutch apple pie.

Also, be sure to take extra care of your teeth by flossing and brushing after your meal. And instead of cleansing your palette with mints, chew sugarless gum to help prevent cavities. Gum will boost your saliva production and help wash away any remaining food.


Diabetes Oral Health Conditions and Prevention

Because there are so many starchy and sugary foods during Thanksgiving (and with leftovers after), it’s important to remember the way certain foods can affect your oral and overall health.

That’s one reason why November is not just a time to give thanks – it’s also home to observances like National Diabetes Month. This is when communities across the country focus on bringing attention to diabetes and raising awareness of what it’s like to live with the disease.

  • Diabetes can increase the risk for oral health conditions such as cavities, dry mouth, tooth loss, burning mouth syndrome, and oral infections.
  • Individuals with diabetes have an increased risk of general health complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, and vision loss.
  • Because of these risk factors, it’s critical for people with diabetes to maintain healthy habits all year round – including the holiday season.


Enjoy a smile-friendly Thanksgiving dinner

Whether you’re living with diabetes or simply want to stay in control of your daily diet, it’s important to choose more nutritious side dishes – or, if it’s a potluck Thanksgiving, you can simply bring one yourself! Prior to the meal, you could even reach out to your friends and family to ask for their favorite healthy appetizers, side dishes, and desserts.  Great food, happy memories, and healthy smiles – there’s a lot to be thankful for this year!

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