A child and a woman smile brightly in the snow. For happy holidays, take care of your mouth and teeth!

With the holiday season approaching, things may look and feel different this year as we continue to keep our health and safety in primary focus due to COVID-19 concerns. Your mouth and teeth are an integral part of your overall health. Here are seven tips to help you make the most of your holidays!

1. Holidays are an important time to minimize your sugar intake.

Not only will your teeth benefit from your eating less sugar (you’ll lower your chance of getting pesky cavities!), but your doing so will also help to keep your stress level down. This can be especially important if your schedule is busy or if you’re caring for children or other family members. For some people, eating too many sweets also leads to a higher risk of developing acne. In place of drinks and treats with added sugar, consider water, unsweetened teas, and fresh vegetables and fruits.

2. Rinse your mouth with water after enjoying meals and snacks.

“I usually tell patients to wait 20 to 30 minutes after a meal to brush,” says Laura Steinmetz, RDH. “If you’ve just had an acid-forming food or drink, the pH level in your mouth may be lower (acidic), and brushing under those conditions could be harmful to your teeth. Waiting 20-30 minutes to brush allows your teeth to remineralize. In the meantime, it’s okay to rinse with water.”

3. Floss and brush your teeth daily!

Are you taking ten minutes each day to care for your teeth? The math is simple: one minute worth of rinsing with water (that’s 20 seconds after each meal), five minutes of flossing once per day, and brushing for two minutes twice each day. Ten minutes worth of simple oral care each day may save you countless hours in discomfort and dental visits, as well as plenty of valuable dollars—allowing you and your loved ones to instead spend them in enjoyment.

4. Holidays can be busy. Be sure to get enough sleep!

Many of us know from experience that a lack of sleep can make us less alert and more irritable and stressed. The holidays can be an especially difficult time to grapple with these issues. But did you know that a lack of sleep can also be harmful to your oral health? In a study of sleep disorders and oral health, researchers found that adults who slept fewer than six hours per night ran a higher risk of inflamed gums, which can lead to gum disease, a gateway to more serious and potentially life-threatening health conditions.

5. For healthy holidays, drink enough water.

It bears repeating: in addition to keeping you vitally hydrated, water won’t harm your teeth! It’s an acid-free, sugar-free, zero-calorie drink that washes away bacteria-friendly sugar and erosion-causing acids from other foods and drinks. Water helps you maintain your saliva flow, which cuts your chance of dry mouth and bad breath. And here’s a bonus: drinking fluoridated water helps to keep your teeth strong!

6. Keep washing your hands, practicing safe social distancing, and wearing a mask.

These are the simplest things you can do to protect yourself and others while COVID-19 remains a public health risk. Though you may still be getting used to wearing a mask in public and in the presence of those outside your immediate household or “bubble,” scientific evidence shows that it reduces the spread of COVID-19. Just be sure to drink enough water to keep your breath fresh and guard against “mask mouth,” change to a fresh mask daily, and launder your fabric masks regularly.

7. Be sure to use your 2020 health benefits before the year ends.

Now is the perfect time to schedule dental appointments for yourself and your family! If you have benefits, don’t let them go unused. Visit your dentist, have your teeth cleaned, and smile brightly in your holiday photos!