February is the month of love, with the long-standing tradition of taking your mate out for Valentine’s Day. Along with going out, Americans spend roughly $345 million each year to purchase roughly 58 million pounds of Valentine’s candy. So although it is a festive occasion, Valentine’s Day (and the days immediately following it) can be very challenging for your teeth.

How Sweets Can Impact Your Teeth: Cavities are the result of tooth decay, which occurs when certain acids attack the teeth breaking down the enamel and inner layer of the tooth. Unfortunately, the bacteria that produce tooth-decaying acid are prevalent in sweets. So each time you eat one of your Valentine candies, your teeth are subject to (at a minimum) a 20 minute acid attack.

Some Sweets Are Worse Than Others: One thing to keep in mind about Valentine’s candy is that some types are far more damaging to your teeth than others. In general, any type of candy that sticks to and/or dissolves slowly in your mouth will prolong the acidic attacks and exacerbate the tooth decay. Candies that fall into this category include suckers, lollipops, toffee, taffy, hard candy, peanut brittle, gum drops and energy bars. Be aware of the impact of these types of candies and keep their intake to a minimum.

Mixing Matters: Another factor in how your teeth will fare during Valentine’s week is what you mix your candy with. There are certain types of drinks that are high in sugar and can contribute to tooth decay. These include sodas (e.g. Coca Cola, Pepsi, Sprite, etc.), energy drinks, and even some forms of alcohol. When eating sweets, it is best to avoid these types of beverages and stick to distilled, purified or spring waters, which can help neutralize the negative effects of candy.

Make the Basics a Habit: It is very difficult to avoid consuming sweets and other substances that can damage your teeth around Valentine’s Day. However, this time of year can also be used to form (or reinforce) solid habits that can promote long-term oral health. For example, it is likely you have been told to brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day and see the dentist for a check-up every six months. But somewhere along the way, you may have fallen out of the habit of doing these tasks diligently. February is the perfect opportunity to get back into these habits as you fight the negative effects of Valentine’s candy. Make an effort to brush and floss regularly and try to stick to it daily, even after the candy is long gone.