Candy is Dandy, and Your Teeth need Relief
Today is celebrated as Halloween Day. For many families, Halloween means bags of free candy and a chance to stockpile sweets for the winter. Kids go nuts today when they can get all the candy they want by simply dressing up and saying the well known tag line. "Trick or Treat"! But this sugar-powered special day can also trigger concerns about children’s dental health. How can you let your kids enjoy Halloween while preventing cavities later on?
Halloween is the scariest holiday—for your teeth. Believe it or not, dentists don’t dislike Halloween. They don’t secretly wish for kids to not eat candy. What dentists do want is for children to avoid certain ultra-sugary sweets and to practice moderation when munching through the contents of their trick-or-treat bags. In a poll conducted by the ADA, more than 76 percent of dentists said they give out some form of candy to children trick-or-treating. Here are 7 healthy tips for Halloween and all year long, according to the American Dental Association:
1. Enjoy Halloween treats with meals
When it comes to sweets and your teeth, timing is everything. If you have a little candy with meals (or right afterward), you’ll benefit from the extra saliva your mouth automatically makes while you’re eating a full meal. This helps rinse away leftover bits of candy and the cavity-causing acids produced by bacteria in your mouth.
2. Don’t snack on sugar
Frequent snacking can boost your cavity risks, and it’s double trouble if you choose sugary treats like Halloween candy. If you need an energy boost, go for low-sugar options such as nuts, fruit, veggies or crackers. Read nutrition labels.
3. Skip sticky or sour candies
Avoid hard candy and sticky, gummy sweets that stay in your mouth for a long time. These can cling to your teeth, elevating cavity risks. Unless they’re sugar-free, it’s a good idea to skip these candies altogether. Sour candies are high in dietary acids that attack the hard, protective coating on your teeth (enamel). They’re tasty, but they’re some of the worst offenders when it comes to tooth decay.
4. A little chocolate is fine
As sweet treats go, small amounts of chocolate are a decent choice. Chocolate is the most popular kind of Halloween candy and it doesn’t stick to your teeth as readily as other candies. If you like dark chocolate, that’s even better, since there’s less cavity-causing sugar in semisweet and dark chocolate than in milk chocolate.
5. Don’t keep a big stash of candy on hand
It’s tempting to keep Halloween or other holiday candy around, but your teeth will thank you if you don’t. Have your family pick their favorites and donate the rest. Organizations that send candy to troops overseas, like Operation Gratitude, will be glad to receive your extra supply.
6. Chew sugar-free gum with the ADA Seal
Enjoying sugarless gum for 20 minutes after eating helps prevent tooth decay, because your mouth makes extra saliva as you chew. This cleanses away food and neutralizes cavity-causing acids (and freshens your breath, too). Look for brands that have earned the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
7. Choose fun giveaways that aren’t candy
At Halloween or anytime, the sweetest gesture might be a longer-lasting item like themed stickers, coloring books and crayons or pens and pencils. There are many great choices you can share with trick-or-treaters or party guests. (Keep in mind the age range of children you’re treating and have a few options on hand that are rated safe for toddlers or preschoolers.)
What Are Some Alternatives to Halloween Candy?
Whether you're stocking up for trick-or-treaters or looking for healthier ideas for your child's Halloween party, check out these candy alternatives for this favorite fall holiday.
Fruits and veggies. Many grocery stores sell fruit and vegetables in individually wrapped snack packs. Check your produce aisle for treat-sized bags of baby carrots and apple slices to encourage dental health and provide a break from a bag of syrupy sweet candy.
Dairy products. The dairy aisle holds more pre-packaged treats that go easy on the teeth. Individual yogurt tubes come in various flavors and provide essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. You can also try cheese sticks, which are sure to be a favorite for hungry ghosts and goblins. Or quench a young vampire's thirst with drink boxes of organic chocolate milk.
Chewing gum. As previously mentioned, sugar-free gum makes a great alternative to traditional Halloween candy. Chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals can help reduce tooth decay. The increased saliva helps wash out food debris and neutralize any acid produced by bacteria.
Make sure your family eats a healthy meal before trick-or-treating, which can help limit the number of sweets. Eating candy alongside a meal can also protect your teeth because the saliva our mouths produce helps dilute the amount of sugar present.
And don’t forget about hydration! Drinks that some children love, like soda and even juice, can have as much or even more sugar than candy. Choose water as much as possible to rinse any leftover food particles out of the mouth.
The best time for your child to indulge in their sweet treats is following their lunch or dinner. This is when saliva production is the highest. The increase in saliva does your teeth a favor by preventing acid buildup along with rinsing away food particles. This is a healthier alternative than eating candy throughout the day which allows plaque to build up and rest on teeth for longer periods of time, which can lead to cavities.
Everyone knows the golden rule of brushing twice a day for two minutes and flossing each night, but your child’s smile will need a little extra care this time of year! One way to make brushing fun for your kids this Halloween is giving your child a brand new toothbrush in their favorite color once the trick or treating has come to a close. When your child has had their treats for the night, give them their new toothbrush and remind them how to keep those fangs clean as a whistle. Brushing each tooth in small circles on the front, back and top can be a little tricky for kids. Supervising and brushing your teeth with your child can make brushing both fun and thorough.
Of course, dental decay is a chronic disease that happens over a long period of time, partially as a result of constant exposure to sugary treats. A pack or two of sour gummies or a few pieces of hard candy on Halloween alone is not going to cause long-term problems. After Halloween, children should return to their normal dental routine, including brushing twice a day, flossing, maintaining a healthy diet and visiting their dentists regularly.
Baby teeth, even though they will fall out, need to be taken care of as your child grows. A child’s teeth save space for their adult teeth to grow into later, and healthy mouths mean fewer issues as they age. You may need to increase supervision or finish your child’s brushing job after eating candy if they aren’t hitting each corner of the mouth. Braces or expanders also make it difficult to brush around the hardware and increases the risk of cavities.
Today, one-quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween. In fact, Americans spent an estimated $2 billion on candy in 2021. For all children, the more candy they can collect this fun-filled night, the better. The average jack-o-lantern bucket carries 250 pieces of candy that amount to 9,000 calories and 3 pounds of sugar! Are your molars hurting?
Halloween increases an abundance of sugar, and it also increases the frequency in which it is consumed. What many dental patients fail to realize is that length of exposure plays a large role in the destruction of tooth enamel. Hard candy and gummies tend to stick around longer, thus increasing the risk of decay. Hard candy, such as suckers, take longer to consume, and gummies get stuck in the grooves of molars and can still be seen after brushing. Hard candy also poses a risk for cracked teeth as many children will try to bite into the candy. Additionally, as previously mentioned, sour candy contains a higher amount of acidity, which further aids in the destruction of tooth structure.
It’s no secret that candy is made with sugar, the very food source for the bacteria in your mouth. When this bacterium, known to dental professionals as Streptococcus mutans, feeds on this sugar as an energy source, it produces lactic acid as a waste that demineralizes the enamel. The main sugars in candy are sucrose, fructose, and glucose. In addition, acid additives such as lemon juice help crystallize certain types of candy. Oral bacteria really enjoy sucrose to create “scaffolding” to survive on the teeth and better attack the surface.
Candy in moderation is not a bad thing. Indulging on special occasions like holidays and birthdays is not going to ruin your teeth. Just have fun and enjoy it, but stick to your dental health routine regularly to make sure your teeth and gums stay in good shape. Halloween is a great time to promote oral health in your family and throughout the community. Whether you are limiting candy consumption in your own home or sharing nutritious, teeth-healthy snacks with friends and neighbors, you can help develop healthy habits while still enjoying the spirit of the holiday.
Plus, don’t forget to visit the dentist twice a year. It’s the best way to prevent cavities before they start forming. Practicing good oral hygiene at home and visiting the dentist every six months will keep your child’s mouth happy and healthy during Halloween season and throughout the year.
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Enjoy today, and then take care of those pearly whites. Candy is dandy, but your teeth need relief.