The holidays are just around the corner, and from Halloween sweets, marshmallow-covered yams and Thanksgiving pies to piles of Christmas cookies and candy canes, your little ones are sure to spend the season with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.

What they’re less likely to be thinking about is how all those sugary foods may affect their oral health. Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease affecting children, and a sugar-heavy diet is a major contributor.

Here are a few tips to help you and your kids protect your smiles over the holidays.

1. Limit sugary foods

First, it’s important to understand that sugar itself isn’t what causes tooth decay. Childrens’ mouths are home to millions of bacteria. Some of them are actually beneficial — they help us digest the food that we eat and keep harmful bacteria from taking over.

Other bacteria, however, aren’t so great. One strain in particular, streptococcus mutans, is particularly harmful. Streptococcus mutans feeds on the sugars and starches in your food. As it eats, it converts those sugars and starches into acids that cause cavities by eroding the protective enamel on your teeth. And, much like your growing children, streptococcus mutans never gets full, meaning the more sugar is in your kids’ diets, the more enamel-eroding acid it creates.

Limiting candy and sweets to mealtime, avoiding sugary drinks like juice and soda, and replacing sugary snacks with fibrous fruits and vegetables and unsweetened dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt are all great ways to promote healthy bacteria and keep the nasty ones in check.

2. Make sure your kids brush after every meal, and floss every day

Not only does brushing a flossing remove the sugars and bits of leftover food that bacteria feed on, it also makes sure harmful bacteria don’t have a place to hide.

Harmful bacteria sticks to teeth and gums by forming an invisible film called plaque. If plaque isn’t removed regularly, it hardens into tartar, which can cause gingivitis, periodontal disease and tooth loss as well as cavities.

Most plaque can be removed by brushing in a circular motion for at least two minutes after every meal. We know or an antsy child two minutes can seem like an eternity, so making up games to play or songs to sing in their head while they brush can be helpful. Flossing once a day is also important to remove plaque from in between teeth and around the gumline.

3. Remember to keep regular appointments at the dentist

We know the holidays are busy, but keeping your children’s regularly scheduled cleaning and checkups are critical to maintaining a healthy smile and detecting potential problems before they become more serious. To set up an appointment for your children, give our office a call.

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