by Daren Gehring, DDS, Cache Valley Pediatric Dentistry
Halloween is just around the corner, and everywhere you look kids are being bombarded by candy displays and sugary treats. While there’s no denying the fun of this spooky holiday, it can be truly scary for their teeth.
So, how can you and your kids enjoy the festivities without damaging their dental health?
Check out these five simple suggestions:
1. Halloween Candy vs. Cavities: Don’t make kids choose. Don’t deny your child the Halloween experience. Instead, let them have the joy of Halloween in all its ghoulish goodness and the experience of going to a party or trick-or-treating. However, after your children get home, go through their bags of candy together. Let them pick the 10 or so (whatever number you decide together) treats they want most. Then get the unpicked treats out of sight.
2. Set a “Treat Time.” Cavities and tooth decay are caused by prolonged exposure to sugar. If kids know there is a specific time for a special treat, they can learn to enjoy the treat in that moment and then be done for the day. After “treat time” encourage brushing to remove the sugar that remains on their teeth, or at least, have them swish with water to remove as much sugar as possible. This helps children learn that eating sweets shouldn’t be an all-day feast. Moderation is the key.
3. Choose Candy Carefully.Sticky candies are the worst for teeth. Taffy, caramels and gummy candies adhere to every nook and cranny on the surface of the teeth, and, because they are so sticky, saliva isn’t able to wash them away as effectively as other types of candy. Kids should brush their teeth as soon as possible after eating these types of candies.Hard candy, like lollipops or jawbreakers, are almost as bad. Although they do not stick to their mouths, they take a long time to dissolve. As a result your child’s teeth are exposed to sugar for a longer period of time.Sour candy is also bad for your teeth because of its higher acidity, which can quickly break down tooth enamel. Even though candies like Pixisticks dissolve quickly in the mouth and don’t require chewing, they contain nothing but sugar and acid, and can quickly change the mouth’s PH and give bacteria a quick sugar to eat. Candy that is both sour and sticky should really be avoided as much as possible due to the double threat of the candy sticking to the teeth longer with the additional acidic content.Chocolate, with no sticky fillings, is a much better option. This type of candy will generally not stick to teeth as easily as other sweets, making it a better choice.
Sugar-free gum may be the best choice because it leaves no sticky residue. It can also help clean out food debris and stimulate saliva production which helps keep our mouths less acidic and less prone to cavities.
4. Candy is Not Dinner. Let’s face it, if left to their own devices, many kids would be perfectly content eating candy for dinner. However, feeding kids a healthy meal before they go trick-or-treating is a great way to decrease their desire to binge on candy. Plus, eating dinner will kick start saliva production, which in turn protects teeth from the candy eaten later.
5. Keep Teeth Brushing Fun. Toothbrushes should be replaced every three to four months anyway, so make Halloween an occasion for getting a new one. Children are more apt to brush when they like their toothbrush. They also like to pick out their own toothpaste. Give them the freedom to pick from gels or pastes, different colors and different flavors. Just check the label to ensure it contains fluoride. There are also apps such as “toothsavers” that encourage teeth brushing as well as video games to play involving brushing the “bugs” away.