October is a time of year that’s jam-packed with lively, family-friendly activities. There’s the process of choosing the best costume ever. The excitement of picking out a pumpkin from the patch and carving the scariest, silliest, or most artistically rendered face. Parties at school, Halloween-themed events around town, and then trick-or-treating on October 31st — all of which add up to lots of fun and piles of candy and other sweet treats. This, of course, is great as far as kids are concerned, but a scary proposition for their oral health.
Halloween doesn’t have to turn into a dental nightmare, however. And kids do not have to forgo candy altogether to keep their teeth and gums in tip-top shape. There are some treats that should be avoided, and the rest should be eaten in moderation. But we promise that you and your family can have an awesome, tooth-friendly Halloween.
Your Candy Buying Guide
You may assume that all candy is equally bad for your teeth. After all, it’s all packed with sugar, right? Well, no and yes. While all candy has sugar, some types are worse than others. So as you walk the Halloween displays of WinCo or Target this year looking for just the right candy to hand out, keep the following tips in mind.
Anything sticky, gooey, gummy, or chewy should be avoided. This includes gummy worms and bears, caramels, jelly beans, and taffy. Plus packets of fruit snacks, fruit roll-ups, chewy granola bars, and even dried fruit like raisins. Why? Because sticky foods get lodged in the teeth and are very difficult to remove. When combined with sugar, this is bad news indeed. The sugar lingers in the grooves of the teeth and bacteria proliferate and generate enamel-destroying acids. We recommend that you avoid buying these sweets for neighborhood trick-or-treaters and purge them from your own kids’ candy stashes.
Another type of candy that’s bad even in moderation is anything sour. You know, the Sour Patch Kids and other candies that promise to make you pucker. These treats contain (in addition to sugar, of course) high amounts of acids. Sugar promotes the growth of bacteria, which produce acids that eat away at your tooth enamel. When you eat acidic foods, including sour candy, you are bypassing the bacteria and exposing your teeth to destructive acids directly.
Hard candies, like lollipops, potentially harm your oral health on two fronts. If you suck on them, you create a dissolved sugar and saliva mixture that coats your teeth and lingers. And the longer sugar remains in the mouth, the more damage it does. If you prefer chewing on these candies, you risk chipping a tooth. Both bad scenarios!
So what treats won’t set back your kids’ or the neighborhood kids’ dental health? Stick with chocolate, and you’re good. Chocolate melts away from the teeth fairly quickly. And what doesn’t stick around doesn’t have time to do much harm. Dark chocolate contains less sugar than milk chocolate, making it a better choice. And did you know that cacao beans contain compounds that actually strengthen tooth enamel and fight decay-causing bacteria? This doesn’t mean you should overindulge — chocolate candy does contain sugar, after all — but in moderation it’s fine.
Halloween Night Tips
You can control what you buy, but you can’t control what will come home in your kids’ plastic pumpkins on Halloween night. So what can you do help them have the healthiest Halloween possible?
First of all, serve a healthy and substantial meal before trick-or-treating. This way, kids won’t have room to overindulge on too much candy. Skip the juice, at least for tonight, and encourage them to drink plenty of water. You may even want to send them trick-or-treating with a bottle of water in hand. Tap is best, as it contains tooth-boosting fluoride.
When the kids come home with their loot, purge it of the worst offenders listed above (you can offer to trade it all for a new toy or money, if you’d like). Let them pick a couple pieces from the remainder to consume immediately, then put away the rest for later.
And, as always, make sure they brush and floss thoroughly before going to bed.