It’s officially Easter, or as I like to call it, “the day that I get to eat chocolate for breakfast”. Even for those who normally eat a healthy, balanced diet, the Easter long weekend is a time when the willpower of many waivers. The temptation of your favourite chocolate egg is just something you can’t ignore, whether it be a classic carton of Cadbury eggs, the iconic Lindt chocolate bunny, or a delicious Darrell Lea Rocklea Road.
You’re probably already aware that the consumption of sugar can lead to tooth decay and cavities, so the arrival of the Easter bunny can be quite detrimental to your dental health. But, instead of telling you to stick to salads and veggies on this special occasion (let’s be realistic), we’re going to give you some tips on how to keep your teeth healthy throughout Easter 2021.
- Reduce your overall sugar intake
- Which food to eat first
- Healthier Easter treat options
- When to NOT brush your teeth
- How saliva protects your teeth
- The best time to eat your Easter treats
1. Reduce your overall sugar intake
If you’re wondering “How much sugar can you have per day?” , the World Health Organisation recommends that we get less than 10% of their daily energy intake from sugar. For an average adult or child, this means approximately:
- 4-6 years: 19 grams of sugar per day
- 7-10 years: 24 grams of sugar per day
- Over 11 years: 30 grams of sugar per day
Easter eggs can drastically add to our overall sugar intake, for example just one small Cadbury Creme Egg contains a massive 5 teaspoons of sugar!
The majority of Australians consume an excess amount of sugar than is recommended for a balanced diet. This usually comes from soft drinks, sweet snacks or desserts instead of nutritional meals. Reducing or removing these unnecessary foods and drinks from your regular diet and substituting them with healthier alternatives can quickly lower your total sugar intake and improve your dental health.
2. Which food to eat first
Despite mentioning above that being Easter means it’s socially acceptable to eat chocolate for breakfast, if you can resist the temptation, it’s best to instead start the day with a healthy breakfast instead!
Choosing high protein foods and those with plenty of fibre will keep you feeling fuller for longer, reducing the amount of treats you’ll feel the need to eat throughout the day.
Some great options include greek yogurt, protein shakes, wholegrain cereals, oats and eggs, while avoiding sugary cereals and juices. If you normally sprinkle sugar over your cereal (we’re looking at you, Weet-Bix), substitute it with fresh fruit or honey instead. If you’re eating tinned fruit, choose those which are stored in water instead of syrup.
If you prefer to start the day with some toast, choose wholegrain options over white bread for extra fibre to keep you feeling fuller for longer, and substitute sweet spreads like jam for low-fat cream cheese, cottage cheese, sliced banana or peanut butter.
3. Better Easter treat choices
Treats to avoid
For the sake of both yours and your children’s teeth, there are definitely some sweets that should be avoided more so than others:
Sticky lollies: This Easter, it’s best to just stick to chocolate whilst limiting the consumption of lollies and other candy that are sticky or gummy. This is because foods such as marshmallows, caramel, lollies and jelly beans easily stick between your teeth and are difficult to rinse out, which allows the sugar more time to sit in your mouth and damage the enamel on your teeth. There have also been cases where patients have lost crowns or fillings due to eating sticky treats.
Hard treats: It’s also wise to avoid solid treats such as peppermints or hard toffees, as there’s always a risk that they will break or chip your teeth.
Dried fruit: One “healthy swap” that is surprisingly as bad for your teeth as lollies are dried fruits, such as sultanas, apricots or dates. This is because the natural sugars found in fruit become very concentrated after the fruit is dried, and since they’re sticky they can get stuck between your teeth, trapping the bacteria that cause cavities, just like lollies.
In addition to avoiding these foods, there are a number of other tips we recommend for looking after kids’ teeth.
Healthier Easter chocolate options
There are several Easter treat options that are better for your teeth and your general health.
Cacao nibs: The best, most pure form of chocolate is cacao nibs, which are available in the health food section of the supermarket. These are just cacao beans that have been broken into little pieces and fermented, so contain no added sugars, fats or further processing, which is how regular chocolate is created from cacao. They’re less damaging to your teeth enamel due to being naturally low in sugar, and have many other benefits, including being a rich source of fibre, protein, and healthy fats, as well as several minerals, such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, and copper.
Dark chocolate: If you feel the need for something a little less bitter, choose dark chocolate (with at least 70% cocoa, and only 6-8 grams of sugar per serve) in moderation instead. This is actually one of the best foods that keep teeth healthy, thanks to the antioxidants and ingredients in the cacao bean which limit bacteria levels as well as strengthen tooth enamel.
Raw chocolate is a preferable option, as it’s minimally processed and high in antioxidants, or alternatively you can choose sugar-free chocolate or carob.
Nuts: We also recommend choosing chocolate with nuts, as they can help reduce the stickiness of treats and break down the bacteria and plaque on the tooth’s surface.
Baking homemade treats: Baking your own Easter recipes is another good option, as you can choose healthier ingredients which are better for your dental health and you have control over the amount of sugar you use.
Real eggs: Instead of only eating chocolate eggs, if you have kids it’s wise to create more hype around boiling regular eggs and decorating them with natural dyes. This has the added benefit of being heaps of fun and keeping them occupied over the Easter holidays, as well as being highly nutritious.
When reading food labels, keep in mind that ingredients are listed in order of how much is in the product. If sugars appear near the top of the list, this will mean that the item is high in sugar. Sometimes, it may not even be written as ‘sugar’, but listed as other ingredients such as corn syrup, fructose, glucose, maltose or sucrose.
You can also drink a glass of milk with your treats, as it contains calcium which will assist in protecting your teeth against plaque and tooth decay by making the enamel stronger.
4. When to NOT brush your teeth
Maintaining a good oral health regime is important, by brushing teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush gently for two minutes, as well as flossing daily. After eating your Easter treats though, you should wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth. This is because the sugar and acids that wear down your tooth enamel remain in your mouth after eating before they begin to be neutralised by your saliva, and brushing your teeth with all of this acid will only wear the enamel down further as it is softer while being affected by the acids.
This brings us to a better alternative:
5. How saliva protects your teeth
Instead of brushing, you should rinse your mouth after eating sweets with water to help the saliva neutralise the acids in your mouth, giving the enamel a chance to remineralise again before brushing.
The importance of saliva production in protecting your enamel means that if you suffer continuously from a dry mouth, you have a higher risk of developing cavities. A dry mouth can be caused by dehydration, so ensure you drink at least 2 – 3 litres of water per day and limit soft drinks to stay hydrated and increase saliva production, wash away sugars and other food debris. Drinking plenty of water before you eat is also a great way to reduce your hunger and the amount of chocolate you’ll be eating throughout the day.
You can also stimulate your saliva production with several healthy snacks, such as apple, carrot or celery sticks. Their fibrous texture helps remove food and plaque stuck to your teeth. Eating cheese after sugary foods can also help neutralise the pH balance in your mouth, reducing the risk of tooth decay.
If you can’t brush your teeth after 30 minutes, chew on sugar-free gum as an alternative to also help stimulate the flow of saliva and freshen your breath.
6. The best time to eat your Easter treats
As mentioned above, during the period straight after enjoying your sweets, the acids from your food aren’t neutralised by your saliva until after approximately 20 minutes. This means that eating more often will result in your enamel being weakened and exposed to these acids more frequently throughout the day, causing more damage to your teeth.
We recommend waiting several hours between eating to reduce the impact of the acids on your teeth. Therefore, eat your Easter chocolate in one or two sittings on the day instead of snacking constantly. If you’re going to indulge, it’s best to do it all at once for the shortest time possible, instead of spreading it out.
Keeping in mind these oral health tips this Easter is the best way to reduce the damage done by your Easter chocolate to your teeth. Keeping your teeth healthy is crucial until you can visit us for your regular check-up and clean.