Halloween is quickly approaching, and the signs are everywhere you look. Pumpkins and spooky decorations adorn porches in every neighborhood, candy and costumes sit on display in every store, and kids everywhere are looking forward to trick-or-treating as their favorite monster or movie character. As much fun as this holiday brings, though, it may haunt your family dentist.
Halloween unofficially kicks off a season of indulgence, with Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts to follow, making it an ideal time for reminders about cavity prevention. The chocolate bars, lollipops, and sour gummies that fill your child’s trick-or-treat basket — delicious as they may be — aren’t exactly healthy for their teeth. Candy contains high sugar content, which helps bacteria in the mouth create acid that wears down enamel. When this protective layer deteriorates, it makes teeth more susceptible to cavities.
This doesn’t mean your little ones need to avoid snacking on candy altogether. However, you should encourage them to follow a few rules to lessen the risks associated with Halloween candy.
Set a limit
Prevent surprises or disappointments by making a plan for parceling out candy in advance. The World Health Organization says added sugars should account for less than 10% of a person’s daily diet to reduce the risk of cavities1. Note that each gram of sugar accounts for about 4 calories2. If your little one goes a bit above this on Halloween night, it isn’t the end of the world as long as they brush and floss afterward. However, it shouldn’t become a habit — long exposure to sugars allows bacteria more time to break down enamel. Limit kids to a few pieces each day, and avoid letting them hoard the candy in their room where you can’t monitor it. You may also choose to let them pick out their favorites while you donate or throw away the rest. If you want to prevent them from coming home with an excessive amount of candy in the first place, provide a smaller bucket or take them to a select number of houses.
Eat candy right after meals
While eating, saliva production is at its highest3. Saliva makes swallowing easier and plays a critical role in preventing cavities by neutralizing acids in food and repairing any early tooth decay. Eating a few pieces of Halloween candy right after dinner means saliva can counteract the acids released by sugar and lessen the risk of cavities. Additionally, your child’s belly will already be full after a meal, meaning they won’t want to overindulge. Kids should wait to brush for at least one hour after eating, though, as the saliva needs time to neutralize acids4.
Avoid hard and chewy candies
Be picky about the types of candy your child eats. Chocolate melts and washes off the teeth easily; conversely, hard and chewy treats present problems. Hard candies, such as peppermints and lollipops, stay in the mouth longer and give bacteria more time to feed on sugar and wear down enamel. These treats can also chip or crack teeth. Chewy candies, such as caramel and gummy worms, are similarly harmful because they stick to teeth. Sour varieties present further problems because they’re more acidic. Limit how many hard and chewy candies your child eats, and encourage them to drink water and brush their teeth 30 minutes after finishing.
If you want your child to stay away from typical Halloween indulgences, there are many dental-friendly substitutes. Dark chocolate, for example, contains less sugar than milk chocolate. Pretzels, crackers, apples, raisins, peanuts, and popcorn are additional snacks children can enjoy without the increased cavity risk. There are also sugar-free varieties of most popular candies. Another option is giving kids small holiday-themed toys, stickers, or trading cards. Some dentists also offer candy buyback programs to exchange sugary treats for cash, toys, or toothbrushes — check with your provider to see if this is an option.
Of course, parents should also ensure their kids follow a strong dental hygiene routine. By combining these tips with regular brushing, flossing, and dental visits, your family can prevent cavities while still enjoying the upcoming Halloween festivities.
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