Make Your Sweets Sugar-Free

You love sugar – and so do the bacteria that live in your mouth that cause tooth decay. When you eat sugary foods, cavity-causing bacteria produce acids that eat away at your teeth. The solution? Pick sweets of the sugar-free variety, which will provide less food for hungry bacteria and fewer acids on your teeth.

If you are really hoping to give your teeth a boost while also enjoying candy, consider looking for treats sweetened with xylitol. “Xylitol can help with reducing plaque buildup. You might consider it as a sweetener as opposed to the blue and pink packages,” recommends Richard H. Price, DMD, spokesperson for the American Dental Association (ADA) and a former clinical instructor at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine.

Xylitol is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved sugar alcohol that has been shown to reduce the amount of Streptococcus mutans bacteria known to cause cavities in your mouth. The compound is as sweet as sugar and is commonly included in chewing gum, mints and cereals. If you are a baking enthusiast, you also can use xylitol instead of sugar without having to change the amount included in your recipe. The catch is that xylitol has to be present in significant enough levels to prevent decay. Read label listings. If xylitol is listed as the first ingredient, the food likely contains enough to prevent decay, according to the California Dental Association.


Pop a Stick of Gum Post-Meal

The benefits of sugar-free candy extend beyond the fact that they don’t contain sugar. Sugar-free gums and candies also help produce extra saliva that can swish away bacteria and plaque.

“The bacteria that cause decay usually flourish in a dry-mouth environment, which leads to increased incidence of tooth decay,” says Charles V. Ankar, DDS, a dentist practicing in Chattanooga, Tenn.

When you pop in a piece of sugar-free gum after a meal, you also can un-stick food material. “If you chew gum after a meal, you’ll clean a lot of particles out of the teeth,” Dr. Price says. “We call this ‘clearance’ because the gum clears bacteria and other sticky foods out of the mouth and off your teeth.”

You don’t have to chew gum for long to reap its benefits. About 20 minutes post-meal should be sufficient, according to the ADA. Look for gums labeled with the ADA Seal, which indicates the gum contains non-cavity causing sweeteners such as aspartame, sorbitol or mannitol.


Enjoy Dark Chocolate Delights

Diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure – these aren’t just the enemies of your heart. Studies have shown an association between these diseases, their treatments and dental health, too. That’s why if you are a chocoholic, it’s best to opt for dark chocolate because it’s packed with flavonoids, or compounds that help to protect your heart. Sadly, milk chocolate and white chocolate won’t offer you the same protective benefits. When you’re asking a loved one for a dark chocolate bar, ensure it is at least 60 percent or more real cocoa. Otherwise, you won’t reap the heart-protective benefits and you will add a lot of calories and fat to your diet.


Keep Sticky Foods Out of Your Stocking

Gummy bears and taffy may be tasty treats, but the sticky stuff is not your friend. This goes not only for chewy candies, but also dried fruits such as cranberries, which are a common holiday staple. Not only do chewy candies and dried fruits make for a chewier eating experience that works your jaw and teeth, those particles tend to linger longer on your teeth, increasing the cavity-causing potential. For a child with braces, chewy candies can mean a holiday trip to the dentist.

“Very sticky, taffy-like foods are the worst for causing loose bands that are cemented around the back teeth,” says K.C. Dyer, DDS, MDS, a Chattanooga, Tenn.,-based orthodontist. “Hard candy and ice are the worst foods for breaking off the front brackets that are bonded to the teeth.”

If you can’t resist the pull of a delicious gummy bear, have your fill at one sitting. “Eating candies all day long will cause more problems (in the oral cavity) than eating the whole bag at one time,” he says. “It takes saliva some time to penetrate the mass, so if you keep exposing your teeth to the sugar, you are more likely to experience decay.”


By Rachel Nall | Medically reviewed by Nicole Holland, DDS, MS