Marcus Neff

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and it’s time to start thinking about the health of your waistline, but what about the health of your teeth?

Turkey is the main attraction on most tables at Thanksgiving but where does it fall as far as tooth health goes? One of the main bonuses of turkey is that it is a protein powerhouse. Protein is an essential component in cartilage, muscles, skin, bones, tooth enamel, and blood and is also used by the body to repair and build tissues.

However, “Turkey can be difficult to eat because it sometimes gets stuck between your teeth,” says Liz Gutierrez, dental hygienist at Health West. “That’s where flossing can help.” The verdict of the Health West Dental Team is that turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving so gobble it up!

Cranberry sauce is another tasty Thanksgiving tradition but how do your teeth feel about this turkey day staple? Cranberries are naturally tart, so sugar or sugar substitutes are often added to recipes.

This side dish can be sticky, acidic, and may temporarily stain your teeth. The verdict of the Health West Dental Team is if cranberry sauce is eaten alone the sugar content, stickiness, acidity, and the tendency for the little berries to get stuck between your teeth make it one of those foods that needs to be eaten in smaller amounts and with a meal.

Sweet potatoes are not only traditional at Thanksgiving but also offer a festive punch of color on your table.

The good news is that sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamins A and C, which help keep your gums healthy. They are also very versatile and can be prepared in many ways, including the traditional Thanksgiving “candied” version, which typically calls for marshmallows.

Andrea Severin, dental hygienist at Health West, says, “sticky foods can damage your teeth since they tend to stay on your teeth longer than other types of food.”

The Health West Dental Team advises that if you are going to eat them candied to enjoy them in moderation and drink plenty of water with your meal to help wash away any leftover food.

Over the years green bean casserole has become a nostalgic traditional Thanksgiving favorite on many feast day tables.

The good news, according to Health West dentist Dr. Liljenquist, is that “green beans are healthy, mushrooms are healthy, and onions are healthy.”

However, he also warns that “it can be sticky, and the little beans may get stuck in your teeth.”

The takeaway from the Health West Dental Team is that this is the good stuff so dig in, but you may want to keep the floss handy!

Who doesn’t love seeing gooey macaroni and cheese on their Thanksgiving table? Many recipes call for cheese and milk and the good news is that calcium from these ingredients helps strengthen teeth so say cheese!

However, white pastas are starchy and can leave sugar behind on your teeth. As with many feast-worthy foods, the Health West Dental Team advises you to eat a sensible portion and break out your brush and floss later.

Mashed potatoes and gravy are always a Thanksgiving favorite and no holiday table would be right without them. The upside of potatoes, according to Health West dental hygienist Karli Tuckett, is that “potatoes are an important dietary source of vitamin C, B6, and potassium.”

However, the downside of potatoes is that they are starchy, and cavity-causing bacteria love the sugar that makes up starch, which can be bad news for your teeth.

The Health West Dental Team cautions that if your mashed potatoes are covered with gravy, the health benefits of the overall dish are diminished to some extent. Thanksgiving only comes once a year so enjoy but make sure to brush afterwards!

Saving the best for last, Thanksgiving would be incomplete without delicious pumpkin pie! Pumpkin has Vitamin A, which helps keep your gums healthy and builds the hard, outer shell of your teeth (enamel) so bring on the pumpkin!

However, be mindful that there’s added sugar in the pie itself and in whatever whipped topping you put on top which can lead to cavities.

This is usually a once-a-year treat but dish it out after dinner, advises the Health West Dental Team. Eating sweets shortly after meals helps keep saliva flowing to help wash away leftover food.

Happy Thanksgiving from Health West Community Dental. Enjoy your meal, but remember to brush and floss so you can enjoy your smile for the rest of the holiday season.

Dr. Marcus Neff is a native of southeast Idaho and has practiced dentistry for 15 years. He and his wife enjoy spending time in the great outdoors with their family and watching their daughters play volleyball.