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Excessive snacking on festive foods can damage your teeth.  During Chinese New Year, for instance, frequent snacking between meals is common practice as you and your family make the rounds to the homes of your relatives and friends.

"Reducing the frequency of snacking as well as cutting down on sugar-rich foods and drinks can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease," said Dr Christina Sim, Senior Consultant, Prosthodontic Unit, Department of Restorative Dentistry, National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS), a member of the SingHealth group.

Tooth decay and gum disease can be prevented through good oral hygiene, reducing the frequency of snacking as well as cutting down on sugar-rich foods and drinks.

Tips to protect your teeth

Saliva is the body’s natural protective and defensive mechanism regulating the pH level in the mouth. Increasing saliva flow in the mouth and drinking sufficient water can help optimise saliva’s protective mechanism.

"Saliva is essential for oral and pharyngeal health. It lubricates the mouth, and helps swallowing, digestion, speech and taste. It also protects against plaque acids, and its anti-bacterial properties and enzymes aid in digestion. It contains minerals and other compounds, which promote remineralisation of the teeth. Good saliva flow helps clear food particles from the mouth too. But smoking, alcohol and recreational drugs may affect the quantity and quality of saliva," said Dr Sim.

Keeping hydrated is also important. Dr Sim said that the lack of water decreases saliva flow and pH and, if prolonged, this can accelerate tooth erosion and decay.

Heavy drinkers of alcohol and caffeine should increase their water intake to restore their fluid balance.

Sugar-free chewing gum and artificial sweeteners are also tooth-friendly. Normal oral pH can be achieved by just chewing gum for 20 minutes. Sweeteners, too, cannot be turned into acids by bacteria in the mouth.

So, for a great start to the year, it would be vital to spring-clean not only your home, but also your mouth.

"We highly recommend that people visit a dentist prior to festive seasons, such as Chinese New Year to make sure their teeth are in good condition, and to prevent an emergency toothache during the festive period, when dentists are not easily available. The dentist can also check for existing chipped teeth or fillings that are leaking, to minimise the risk of chipping a tooth while eating. You can also ask your dentist to do simple saliva function tests to assess saliva flow, its acidity and ability to neutralise acids," said Dr Sim.

Snack smart

  • Limit your intake of sugary and acidic foods.
  • Go easy on sugar-laden juices, coffees, teas and fizzy drinks.
  • Avoid sipping acidic or sugary drinks over a long period of time. Drink through a straw to minimise contact with your teeth.
  • Maintain a strict oral hygiene regime.
  • Drink enough water to avoid dehydration, which will reduce saliva flow and depress the pH level in your mouth. Allow time for the pH level in your mouth to return to normal.
  • Check the pH level of your saliva using a piece of pH paper, which is easily obtained from the dentist. A healthy saliva pH is mildly alkaline at 7.4.

Ref: P16