What Foods to Avoid at the Thanksgiving Feast

It’s already November, and you know what that means: it’s almost Thanksgiving. With Halloween behind us, we’re already diving headlong into the holidays. This time of year can be risky for your teeth -- not to mention other aspects of your health. This festive season brings all kinds of tasty treats and food items. From seasonal cookies and pies, to comforting savory dishes like stuffing and roast turkey, there’s a particular variety of cuisine that, for Americans, is distinctively holiday food. 

What Foods to Avoid at the Thanksgiving Feast

Unfortunately, a lot of these foods aren’t great for your teeth. You may want to avoid them at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. If you do choose to partake -- after all, Thanksgiving is a once-a-year event -- you may still want to avoid them at other points during the holiday season. As you go to holiday parties, neighbors bake you pies, and dentally unfriendly foods are everywhere, moderation is key. Overindulging in some Thanksgiving foods can be really bad for your oral health

Here are some of the foods that are particularly bad for your teeth, some of which might surprise you since they’re not typically thought of as unhealthy.

Dried Fruits

Historically, fresh fruit was only available when it was in season. As a result, people dried fruits for consumption during the fall and winter. To this day, dried fruits are a common treat during the holiday season. Raisins and dried cranberries are a common autumn snack, and on the surface, they don’t seem too threatening. After all, they’re fruit.

Unfortunately, the drying process concentrates the sugars pretty heavily. Even raisins, nature’s anti-candy that every child dreads on Halloween night, pack a lot of natural sugar into a very small package. Because they’re sticky, they adhere easily to your teeth, providing sugar to feed the bacteria that cause tooth decay.

Holiday Themed Cookies & Cupcakes

Cookies, cupcakes, and other sweet baked goods are everywhere around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Obviously, they’re really not very good for your teeth. The problem here isn’t relegated to Thanksgiving -- a cupcake will not kill you. However, the issue for many people is that throughout November and December, they end up consuming these kinds of foods more regularly than usual. Holiday parties, co-workers bringing treats, and other opportunities to eat sugary pastries can be bad for your teeth if you indulge in them too often.

Pumpkin Pie & Other Thanksgiving Pies

Pumpkin pie is the classic Thanksgiving dinner pie. In the South, pecan pie and sweet potato pie are also popular. Needless to say, the sugar content in pies is bad for your teeth.

Caramel Corn

Fresh, air-popped popcorn is relatively healthful overall, providing a low-calorie solution to cravings for carbohydrates or salt. (We’re not talking about movie theatre popcorn. How do you take something that normally has 15 calories per cup, and transform it into a 3,000 calorie nightmare? It’s astounding.)

Unfortunately, popcorn isn’t the best thing for your teeth. Around the holidays, sugary forms of popcorn are popular. Popcorn balls and caramel corn are particularly unfriendly toward your dental health. On its own, popcorn’s texture gives it a tendency to get stick between your teeth. When this occurs, it provides an area where tooth-damaging bacteria can thrive. Adding sugar to the mix, only compounds this issue. 


Alcohol is fantastic in moderation -- in fact, red wine may actually have mild benefits for your cardiovascular health. However, as we all know, quantity and frequency make a big difference here. An occasional glass of wine or beer is pleasant and enjoyable, but once you start getting into higher quantities or frequent consumption, things can get ugly pretty quickly.

Along with the effects of alcohol over-consumption on metabolism, body weight, liver health, and brain function, it’s also bad for your teeth. When you consume alcohol, especially unmixed hard liquor, it decreases your natural saliva production. The saliva helps wash away food particles and provide a line of defense against acids that can erode tooth enamel. People who drink heavily on a regular basis often suffer from poorer tooth and gum health, as well as an elevated chance of mouth and throat cancer.


Surprisingly, stuffing isn’t great for your teeth. Made from dried bread, it’s primarily composed of carbohydrates. It’s high in starch, which is broken down in the mouth by an enzyme in your saliva called amylase. The amylase converts it into sugars, which accumulate on the surfaces of your teeth.

Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Pumpkin spice lattes contain inordinate amounts of sugar. A grande pumpkin spice latte with whole milk and whipped cream has a full 50 grams of sugar. Even with nonfat milk and no whip cream, it has 39 grams. 

Cranberry Sauce

Because cranberries are so tart, sugar is often added to prepackaged or homemade sauces. The sugar, acidity, and sticky texture aren’t good for your tooth enamel. 

Are There Any Thanksgiving Foods Good For Your Teeth?

Not all Thanksgiving and holiday season foods are particularly damaging to your teeth. These popular foods have few negative effects, and can also have overall health benefits when prepared healthfully.

  • Turkey. Turkey doesn’t contain sugar or starch -- it’s a bird’s muscle tissue, so it’s mostly protein and fat. Like many other animal foods, turkey contains a decent amount of vitamin D, a micronutrient that’s important for enamel strength.

  • Onions. Onions have natural antibacterial properties against Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus, two bacteria that cause dental caries. However, raw onions have the strongest effect. Steamed onions, in particular, have diminished effects on the bacteria.

  • Crudités. Crudités, like fresh raw vegetables and cheeses, are good for your teeth. The process of chewing raw vegetables produces extra saliva that removes bacteria from your teeth, and cheeses are high in enamel-strengthening calcium and casein, a protein that also helps fortify them against cavities.

  • Nuts. Like raw vegetables, the act of masticating nuts produces extra saliva. Many nuts also contain vitamins and minerals that help remineralize your teeth. 

Brushing & Flossing After Thanksgiving Dinner 

Thanksgiving only comes once a year, so it’s the one time that many people indulge in sugary, starchy foods that are bad for dental health. After the meal, it’s important to get residue from these foods out of your mouth. Brushing immediately after eating isn’t advisable, and it’s better to wait up to an hour first. However, flossing and brushing can help you remove sugary residue, stuck particles of food, and other debris that could encourage the growth of the bacteria that cause cavities. Chewing gum with Xylitol can also help promote salivation. 

Taking Care of Your Teeth Over the Holidays 

During the Thanksgiving season, and the Christmas season that follows, you’re presented with many opportunities to indulge in foods that aren’t good for your dental health. From pumpkin pie and turkey-shaped sugar cookies, to starchy stuffing and mashed potatoes, the holiday season isn’t particularly tooth-friendly. Exercising moderation can help you avoid incurring cavities over the next two months, while still enjoying seasonal treats.

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