How to ensure a cracker of a smile this Christmas

What images does Christmas Day conjure up for you? Families grazing on tasty snacks, slumped on the sofa in front of the TV, a large shiny tin of tinsel-wrapped chocolates, perhaps a pile of discarded nutshells, or an empty glass or two of fizzy wine? The festive season brings with it much fun and indulgence – with food and drink no exception – but, be aware, there can be a high price to pay for those culinary luxuries, especially when it comes to your dental health.

Hidden in the cornucopia of delights, there are some dietary devils that will have a poor impact on the health of your mouth. With the excitement of some precious family time, all those good habits you’ve been observing over the year can be forgotten in the run-up to the festive season – and throughout the holiday period. In the flurry of activity that involves shopping and gift-wrapping, parties and preparation, good habits slip as we eat more sugary food and drink more alcohol; even our twice-a-day two-minute brush may be shortened to a quick brush before we go on our merry way …

Surprisingly perhaps, it’s not just the obvious Christmas time sweet treats that are bad for the teeth. For example, citric fruits may be a rich source of vitamin C and other nutrients in these winter months. Indeed, we can all boost our immune system by topping up on our vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc in order to prevent coughs and colds and mouth soreness during winter which traditionally offers very little sunlight. But proceed with caution – get your vitamin C from real fruits and vegetables rather than juices. Besides being high in sugar, most fruit juices are quite acidic, and can lead to erosion of the tooth enamel. Fruit juices are fine in small amounts, but drink them with meals, or use a straw if possible to minimise how much juice comes into contact with your teeth. And avoid cleaning your teeth immediately. Wait for at least one hour after eating or drinking anything acidic before brushing your teeth. This gives your teeth time to rebuild mineral content.

If you want to keep your teeth healthy – and your dental team happy – here is a wish list from a merry band of dental therapists on how best to look after your smile – and those of your loved ones – this Christmas …

- Instead of buying offspring a traditional advent calendar with hidden chocolates this Christmas, get creative and make your own calendar with little gifts personal to each child

- Chop up nuts into small pieces to avoid cracking teeth

- Drink lots of water and use lip balm to prevent chapped lips in the cold and in the centrally heated environment

- Top up your teeth whitening to have a brighter Christmas

- Stuck for a gift? Check out the newest range of electric toothbrushes, as there are often bargains to be had. But remember, a toothbrush is not just for Christmas!

- Avoid swishing alcoholic drinks around your teeth; use a straw instead

- Indulgence is okay in moderation, so long as you take good care of your mouth hygiene. Late nights and rich foods must be followed up with thorough brushing and interdental cleaning before bedtime

- Enjoy the festive season, but be conscious of your alcohol consumption. Alcohol is an oral cancer risk factor and current guidelines recommend men should consume no more than 3-4 units of alcohol per day and women no more than 2-3 units per day, with two alcohol-free days per week

- We all tend to eat more sugar at Christmas so keep some sugar-free gum with xylitol with you to chew for 20 minutes after those sugary foods!

- Floss, floss-picks and interdental brushes remove more than just turkey from between your teeth. Use them daily to remove bacteria/plaque to keep your gums healthy

- Be sure to persist with your dental routine despite it being a holiday, so two minutes twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste and be sure to floss

- Use a bottle opener (and not your teeth!) to avoid tooth fractures – you’d be surprised, how often this happens over Christmas!

- Make a note of your dental surgery emergency number over the Christmas period. Contact numbers and opening times may change

- Invest in a good stain-removing toothpaste to help keep the festive red wine staining at bay

- Try to reduce fizzy and sweet drinks to a mealtime, and only drink milk or water with nothing added in between meals

- And finally, make sure you are kissable this Christmas – keep up your good dental health habits before going under the mistletoe!

* With thanks to the council of the British Association of Dental Therapists for their festive tips and advice