It’s the most wonderful time of year. Filled with parties and presents… and high-fructose corn syrup. Just when you’ve seen the last of the Halloween candy, your children are hit with another round of sugar. In fact, most of the holiday season feels like mission impossible, simply keeping their hands out of the cookie jar. Here are some tactics to help you navigate the next few weeks so your little ones can steer clear of cavities and you can stay sane.

Be strategic.

Your game plan going in should be simple: cut out as much sugar as you can and when you can’t, make a counter offer. Pair small plates of sweets with healthy snacks like cheese sticks and apples. Dairy foods help neutralize acids that cause tooth decay, and fresh fruits naturally satisfy their sweet tooth. Crunchy carrots and other crudités can curb sugar cravings, too.

Keep the time in mind.

Consider how long something takes to eat. Your kids will scarf down cake or cookies in a lot less time than hard candy that keeps them sucking, sometimes for hours. Also, don’t wait until after dinner to have dessert when sugar has a chance to linger and likely sink in or stick to teeth. Try serving sweets with your meal, as saliva produced by increased chewing can cancel out acids from bacteria and rinse away nasty food particles.

Get picky when it’s sticky.

Often, dried fruit tops your list as a sugar substitute. But keep in mind, these foods usually stick around. Starchy snacks are sneaky, too, because they can easily become trapped in teeth and go unnoticed. Take extra care to floss after meals full of sticky, starchy stuff.

Sip and snack.

Have a healthy drink on hand. Drinking water while snacking rinses away sugar, which in turn, reduces the risk for plaque buildup. Nix sugar-loaded juices and soda. Switch to milk if they don’t want water; it can help neutralize those corrosive acids that lead to tooth decay.

Brush. Floss. Rinse. Repeat.

Of course, the most basic way to prevent decay is to brush and floss every day. Proper brushing and frequent flossing will loosen particles that otherwise create breeding grounds for bacteria. While they should already practice twice a day, it’s smart to step up healthy habits during the holidays, particularly after treats whenever possible. But don’t grab the toothpaste right away – it’s best to wait a bit. Brushing teeth too soon can scrub off enamel softened by acids that make teeth sensitive; give it half an hour to ensure that protective enamel has time to harden.

Make a date with the dentist.

Check-ups every 6 months for routine teeth cleanings and fluoride treatments help keep cavities at bay. A post-holiday appointment while the kids are still out of school is not only convenient for you, but perfect timing for their oral health, too.

Have a Happy Holiday.