8 Thanksgiving Foods That Wreck Your Teeth

8 Thanksgiving Foods That Wreck Your Teeth

 Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Medical Reviewed on Dec 1, 2022
byDr. Matthew Hannan DDS
🔬 Evidence Based
8 Thanksgiving Foods That Wreck Your Teeth

You want to enjoy all of your favorite foods this Thanksgiving. After all, it’s been a long year and we have a lot to be thankful for. When it comes to holidays like Thanksgiving, teeth are usually exposed to a wide variety of foods that we probably don’t eat throughout the other months. Identifying bad foods for teeth can help you eat smart this holiday season, enjoying the right foods as well as the “wrong” ones (in moderation) without putting your smile at too big of a risk. But if you’re planning on munching on Thanksgiving leftovers for days—or have multiple dinners across your social circles—here are the top bad foods for teeth you’ll want to be aware of.

Why Are The Holidays Easy To Slip Up On Your Dental Health?

During the holidays we tend to get less sleep, feel more stressed, and have less time devoted to self-care like oral hygiene and healthy meal planning. We’re also constantly combatting snacks, baked treats, and holiday beverages from friends, coworkers, or baked items that we’re making for other people. That’s why this time of year can be bad on both your mouth and your britches!

Fortunately, you can still make smart choices and enjoy your holiday favorites. When you eat or drink anything in moderation—and clean your teeth well afterward—you can lessen the impact it will have on your teeth and gums.

What Are Fermentable Carbs?

A lot of us assume that the only bad foods for teeth are the ones that are loaded with sugar. Yes, sugar is bad for teeth, but so are things like starches and fermentable carbs. Here’s why: once you put those foods into your mouth, the bacteria in your mouth start to break them down for digestion. When they do, they secrete acid byproducts (“germ poop”) that etches away at your tooth enamel. Frequently consuming fermentable carbs will significantly raise the levels of bacterial plaque and acids in your mouth. In turn, you’ll naturally be at a higher risk for tooth decay.

The acid byproducts from fermentable carbs are active for about a half-hour. If you eat them all at one time, you limit the acidic timeframe in your mouth. Whereas if you eat them for lunch, have one or two-afternoon snacks, then eat them again for dinner, you’re getting 1.5-2 hours of acid exposure.

Avoid These Thanksgiving Foods

1) Dinner Rolls

The Good—Whole grain bread is a great alternative to white or bleached flours.

The Bad—Bread, in general, tends to produce more plaque on your teeth because of the high carb count.

Final Verdict—Enjoy your dinner roll with your Thanksgiving dinner, as opposed to snacking on them as you make trips back and forth out of the kitchen. Make sure your meal is balanced to help counteract all those carbs.

2) Stuffing  

The Good—The taste, of course! What’s Thanksgiving without stuffing or cornbread dressing?!

The Bad—It’s loaded with carbs, so just like dinner rolls, it’s going to increase the amount of biofilm and plaque across your teeth whenever you eat it.

Final Verdict—Treat yourself to a modest portion during Thanksgiving dinner. It can provide a nice buffer for things like cranberry sauce. But don’t eat on the leftovers all week long as a meal substitute.

3) Cranberry Sauce

The Good—Packed with vitamins, cranberries offer a nice twist to your typical family dinner.

The Bad— Possibly the worst thanksgiving food of all time. Most cranberry sauces are loaded with sweeteners. This side dish is also sticky, so it can cling to your teeth for hours afterward. And then there’s the fact that cranberries can easily stain your tooth enamel.

Final Verdict—Eat cranberry sauce in moderation and only every now and then. Once a year during Thanksgiving is perfectly acceptable. Rinse your mouth with plenty of water afterward.

4) Pies And Desserts

The Good—They’re delicious. What else needs to be said? Pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and everything in-between. You’ve been waiting all year long for this.

The Bad—They’re sticky and loaded with sugar. Chances are, you’ll have pieces stuck to your teeth for the rest of the day. Snacking on them throughout the day means extra acid exposure and tooth erosion.

Final Verdict—Everything in moderation. Enjoy your pie immediately after mealtime to shorten the overall length of acid exposure to your teeth. If possible, try to brush and floss a couple of extra times that day.

5) Carmel Candies Or Popcorn  

The Good—The taste.

The Bad—Sticky snacks can pull off dental sealants or already loose dental work, and cling to teeth for hours. Plus, popcorn kernels can get wedged down between your teeth.

Final Verdict —Have some floss picks handy to remove anything stuck between teeth or on the chewing surfaces. Limit these snacks to a couple of times per year.

6) Candied Yams

Photo via Pillsbury

The Good—Yams (sweet potatoes) are loaded with nutrients and are healthy to eat on their own.

The Bad—The holiday candied yam version—with or without marshmallows—is sticky and loaded with sweeteners, coating your teeth in cavity-causing acids. It’s basically like eating a brown sugar marshmallow pie.  

Final Verdict—Like your stuffing or dinner roll, enjoy your candied yams with your other food all at one time to shorten the window of exposure to your teeth.

7) Mashed Potatoes

Photo via Cambrea Bakes

The Good—There’s nothing as good as melt-in-your-mouth mashed potatoes. Potatoes also contain vitamin C, which aids in gum health.

The Bad—This food is super starchy, giving it extra power for dental plaque production.

Final Verdict—You can’t not have mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner. Just balance them with other foods and be sure to brush and floss well.

8) Macaroni and Cheese

The Good—If your kids don’t want to eat anything else at the Thanksgiving dinner table, they’ll at least eat mac n’ cheese (you probably will too!)

The Bad—Like mashed potatoes and dressing, mac n’ cheese is loaded with carbs. Meaning more plaque production and thereby more acid on your teeth. Plus, there’s the gooey cheese factor, leaving food stuck on your teeth for hours.

Final Verdict—Eat your mac n’ cheese in moderation with other foods and balance it with some vegetables. Make sure you don’t wait too long to brush your teeth afterward or at least drink plenty of water.

Thanksgiving Foods Your Teeth Will Love

1) Turkey  

The Good—Turkey is a lean protein. If you’re a family that tends to have two types of meat options at Thanksgiving, turkey is a healthy choice.

The Bad—Meat can tend to get caught between teeth if you have gum disease, recession, cavities, or misaligned teeth.

Final Verdict—You need your protein, so enjoy your Thanksgiving turkey! Just keep a few floss picks on hand in case something gets stuck.

2) Green Bean Casserole

Photo via bonappetit

The Good—Almost everything that goes into green bean casserole is good for you.

The Bad—Green beans might get caught around or between teeth, so be sure to check your smile afterward.

Final Verdict—Feel free to help yourself to a second helping of green bean casserole. It’s one of the healthiest things you’ll eat all day.

3) Veggies


The Good—Jam-packed with vitamins and minerals, veggies are essential for healthy teeth and bones.

The Bad—There’s not a lot to say about veggies being bad for you, but they’re healthiest when uncooked, steamed or baked (as opposed to boiled, which can draw out some of the nutrients.)

Final Verdict—Try to load up your plate with as many vegetables as possible. You can’t get too many!

4) Pumpkin Pie

The Good—Pumpkin is a superfood that’s full of iron, magnesium, Vitamin A & C, zinc, fiber, and potassium.

The Bad—Most pumpkin pie will have sweetener or sugar inside of it (or on top, if you’re a fan of whipped topping.)

Final Verdict—Try to eat your pumpkin pie right after your meal to reduce total acid exposure timeframes on your teeth.

Enjoy The Holidays, Bring A Toothbrush & Floss!

Do you have to avoid all of these foods during Thanksgiving? Teeth are capable of withstanding the occasional exposure to sugars, fermentable carbs, and starches. So, although you don’t need to cut them out of your diet altogether, you do want to reduce how frequently you’re consuming bad foods for your teeth.

Some easy ways to keep your teeth healthy this Thanksgiving day include brushing twice a day, flossing after meals, and drinking or rinsing with water frequently. Water is a natural cleanser, so it can flush away some of the acids and leftover food after you eat. If you’re at a family or business lunch, excuse yourself to go rinse your mouth out well in the restroom. Or drink water with your meal, sipping on it after you’re finished eating.

 Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH"Teeth Talk Girl," is a registered dental hygienist. She started her dental health journey on YouTube, educating the public through videos.
Dr. Matthew  Hannan DDS
Medical Reviewed byDr. Matthew Hannan DDSDr. Matthew Hannan is a board-certified dentist and graduate of UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry.
Last updated onNovember 13, 2023Here is our process

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