A lot of parents that are particularly conscious of their children’s oral health may worry about their consumption of candy around Halloween time. Should parents be worried? The key to kids and candy is moderation. Sugar, although harmful to everyone’s teeth, is fine in moderation. The key to avoiding cavities is to pay attention to the frequency in which children consume candy. For example, on Halloween and for a week or so thereafter, most kids have an abundance of candy to eat. It’s better for their teeth to allow them a few scheduled times throughout the day to consume candy, as opposed to eating it all day long.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, Does Chewing Sugar-Free Gum Decrease Your Risk of Cavities?, cavities are formed by demineralization of the teeth. After you eat, the pH in your mouth drops. This increase in acid is a by-product of the bacteria that reside within our mouths that feed on sugar and other carbohydrates we consume. The acid then causes demineralization of enamel, which turns into decay. After one eats, the low pH can remain for 20-60 minutes. Therefore, if kids take 20 minutes to gorge on candy, after their last piece the pH can remain low for up to an hour. However if they were to snack on candy all day long, their pH can stay low ALL DAY, resulting in an enormous risk for greater decay.
Prior to writing this blog, I looked at numerous articles currently written about kids and their Halloween candy. One of my favorites was an article on MSNBC’s Today’s Health Blog, “Let kids gorge on Halloween candy, dentists say”. This article suggests letting kids gorge on Halloween candy once or twice a day, instead of allowing them to bathe their teeth in sugar all day long, producing a very acidic oral environmental where bacteria will surely thrive. The article also stated: ”Candy is not necessarily the worst thing for your teeth, anyway. The factors that really lead to cavities are stickiness and acidity. Potato chips and pretzels, for example, are worse offenders than chocolate, because these cooked carbohydrates cling to your teeth — giving mouth bacteria something to feast on longer and thus generating more acid.”
The one very detrimental mistake I found in most articles though, suggested that you have your children brush their teeth immediately after eating candy. The acid present in the mouth after one eats, in conjunction with the bristles moving swiftly across one’s teeth, essentially rubs the acid into the teeth. This could causes severe erosion of the tooth structure if done repeatedly and often, and could actually increase one’s risk of decay. A better alternative to this, would be to chew sugar-free gum immediately after, which encourages an increase in pH within 20 minutes as opposed to an hour. After about 30 minutes, you can then have them brush their teeth. If you don’t want your kids chewing gum, then wait at least 1 hour before having them brush their teeth. At the end of an hour it is a good idea to have them brush, just not before then.
Here are some tips mentioned by Delta Dental’s website in their article, “Sugary, sticky Halloween treats can play tricks on children’s teeth”
Tips for limiting the effects of sugary treats
- Choose candy that can be eaten quickly and easily to limit the amount of time sugar is in contact with the teeth.
- Steer away from sticky candies like gummy fruit snacks, caramel, taffy, popcorn balls and other candies that expose the teeth to sugar for long periods of time.
- Limit consumption of sour candies that may contain acids (such as citric acid) to intensify the sour flavor. These acids can contribute to dental erosion and cavities.
- Encourage children to eat a small amount of candy in one sitting followed by a glass of water or a thorough tooth brushing. [**remember to wait for at least one hour before brushing!]
- Encourage children to eat a good meal prior to trick-or-treating, so there will be less temptation to fill up on candy.
- Consider purchasing non-food treats for those who visit your home, such as coloring books or pens and pencils.