Turkey, popcorn balls, nuts, home-made hardtack and taffy, fruitcake…All of these delicious goodies characterize the Holiday season.
Unfortunately, they can wreak havoc on an unprepared mouth. Problems related to broken teeth usually increase in frequency around this time of feast and celebration.
The chewing mechanism is controlled both consciously and automatically.
When you decide to bite into an apple or a carrot, for instance, you deliberately tell your body how hard to bite down. However, when you chew, your muscles of mastication function automatically in programmed patterns, called engrams, that have been developed over your lifetime for each consistency of food that you eat. A protective mechanism also exists to prevent injury to your teeth while chewing. The is called the nociceptive trigeminal inhibition reflex. For example, if you are eating a hamburger, your jaw muscles “know” how to chew it properly; if something hard like a piece of bone is encountered, the reflex mechanism interrupts the normal chewing engram, and you then consciously decide how to remedy the situation so that you can finish chewing the piece of meat.
The problem with typical holiday foods is that they usually consist of multiple different consistencies.
For instance, jello salads with nuts and fruitcakes create a real chewing challenge. The chewing system is quite simply fooled by Holiday goodies, and the protective reflex mechanism may be compromised. One of the biggest culprits is turkey stuffing; hidden pieces of bone, almonds, celery, etc., are often mixed with soft bread stuffing. Another culprit is dried fruit. People often forget that dates have large seeds and figs have very hard tiny seeds, both of which are hidden in soft, gooey, and delicious fruit. The result of an unfortunate encounter with a date seed or a turkey bone in stuffing usually is a missing body part…a broken tooth cusp!
Fortunately, in these times of modern preventive dentistry, fewer people need to suffer from painful broken teeth.
“Preventive dentistry” means creating an environment that is not prone to catastrophic trauma and disease. For instance, crown therapy may often be recommended for teeth that have very large fillings because dentists know that those teeth may be prone to fracture when the reflex mechanism fails. This is a very important reason for seeing a dentist regularly to discuss where potential problems may occur during you most susceptible moments, like Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s. If you’re due for an appointment, you can request one here.