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Now that October has arrived, we begin a long season of grazing on sugary treats — starting with Halloween. Candy consumption is virtually unavoidable for kids at this time, so for parents (and their dentists) worried about children’s dental health, it’s always useful to keep in mind which types of candy are worse for kids’ teeth.
While I would love to see all of my pediatric dental patients consume nothing but healthy foods and beverages ALL the time, I realize that not only is that an unrealistic dream, but also that sweet treats are one of childhood’s greatest joys. So, I will also list some candies that are okay if consumed in moderation, as long as children are also practicing good oral hygiene routines.
Sticky and Chewy Candies
A good rule of thumb when evaluating candy is to remember that the stickier and chewier it is, the worse it is. That’s because extra sticky and/or chewy candy stays in the mouth longer and settles in the grooves of the teeth, giving it extra time to develop the bacteria that causes tooth decay. Gummy bears, taffy, caramels, jelly beans — these are all examples of sticky or chewy candy that can linger on the teeth too long.
If the chewy or sticky candy is also sour, that’s double trouble. The high acid levels in sour candies can wear away the tooth enamel, making it even more susceptible to decay. Don’t brush teeth immediately after consuming sour candies — it will spread more of the corrosive acid to other teeth. Instead, wait 30 minutes for the saliva to restore the natural balance of acid in the mouth and then brush.
Hard Candies and Lollipops
Hard candies and lollipops carry an extra threat to teeth. They last for a long time in the mouth, can have high levels of acid, and can chip or break a tooth if bitten or chewed.
Chewing sugar-free gum can dislodge food particles from the teeth as well as increase saliva, which prevents dry mouth. A dry mouth allows plaque to accumulate on teeth faster, which in turn can cause cavities. Sucking on sugar-free lollipops and hard candies can also keep the saliva going.
Chocolate is a better choice for Halloween candy. Because chocolate dissolves quickly in the mouth, it is rinsed away faster. Teeth are not exposed to the sugar for a long time. Also, the calcium in milk chocolate can actually help strengthen the tooth enamel. Dark chocolate has an added benefit in that it contains antioxidants that can be good for the heart and reduce blood pressure.
Ideas for Non-Candy Halloween Treats
Wondering what you can give trick-or-treaters besides candy? Why not hand out coloring books, stickers, cash, trading cards, pretzels, small bouncy balls or glow in the dark necklaces? Kids like getting these items and they already get enough candy anyway.
Limiting Candy Consumption
As with any of life’s special treats, candy should be enjoyed in moderation. Use Halloween as an opportunity to teach your children about healthy habits by giving them specific times to enjoy a piece of candy or two. For example, set a “candy time” and allow your child to select a small amount of candy each day to have during that time. Also, involve them in eliminating candy from their Halloween haul that is not healthy for them or their teeth.
Reinforce Good Dental Hygiene Habits
This is also a great time to think about reinforcing good oral hygiene habits with your children. Brushing with a soft toothbrush for two minutes twice a day and flossing once a day will go far in preventing cavities and other oral health problems. Some electronic toothbrushes make the two minute rule easy with built-in timers, music, apps and more.