Before Chinese New Year, the National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS) sees an influx of patients who want to clean and whiten their teeth. After the celebrations, patients make unscheduled visits for different reasons – fractured or dislodged fillings, toothache, tooth sensitivity and cracked or fractured teeth.

Many of these complaints are linked to snacking on festive goodies such as sticky, sugary foods, hard candies and nuts, consuming litres of carbonated soft drinks and cracking heaps of melon seeds with the teeth. But, can just a few days of eating with abandon do so much harm?

"You will be surprised what a few days of feasting can do to your teeth," said Dr Christina Sim, Senior Consultant, Prosthodontics, Department of Restorative Dentistry at National Dental Centre Singapore, a member of the​ SingHealth group.

Diet and tooth decay

Dr Sim explained that traditional snacks, such as bak kwa, nian gao (sticky rice cake), pineapple tarts, love letters, sweets, chocolates and cakes, contain fermentable carbohydrates which the bacteria in plaque metabolise into acids. These acids 'leach' minerals from the teeth, causing caries, disease or tooth decay.

With frequent snacking between meals – a common practice during Chinese New Year – acid levels in the mouth remain high and the 'leaching' continues. In fact, frequent snacking can possibly cause more damage to the teeth than eating a greater amount, but less often.

"Sticky foods such as nian gao, pineapple tarts, chocolates and toffee adhere well to tooth surfaces, and are more difficult for saliva to wash away. Saliva rebalances the pH level in the mouth, slows down mineral loss from the teeth and allows repair to take place. Sufficient time must be given for the pH level in your mouth to return to normal," said Dr Sim.

Orange juice (with a colour that represents wealth), and soft drinks are typically served in many homes. Sugar-laden and acidic, they are far from tooth-friendly.

"Drinking such beverages frequently lowers the pH level in the mouth and also causes minerals to 'leach' from the teeth. They can also erode the outer enamel of teeth, exposing the softer inner dentine layer which is more sensitive. In fact, sipping a soft drink over an extended period of time puts you at a higher risk of caries than finishing it within 10 minutes,” said Dr Sim.

The other concern is the cracking of the teeth's enamel. "When we chew on sugary, sticky and hard foods like candy, nuts and melon seeds, there is a chewing force exerted by our teeth. This force can be so great that it causes micro cracks to develop in the enamel structure," said Dr Sim.

Click to page 2 for tips to protect your teeth while feasting on your favourite goodies.

Ref: P16