Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Take the Candy, Leave the Cavities

Halloween is just around the corner and children across the country are counting down the days until they can knock on doors and load up on their candy supply. But when it comes to trick or treat, it turns out that the treats can actually be the biggest tricks of all.

While any candy should be consumed in moderation at any time of the year – sugar free if possible – there are other factors to be aware of so that the Halloween holiday doesn’t have lingering effects.

Halloween is a time for children to enjoy, but you don’t want them to be paying for it in dental pain down the road. Moderation is the key and parents are the gatekeepers. Parents should help their kids fight cavities by moderating the amount of candy they consume and lowering the amount of time sugar stays in contact with their teeth.

Sugar is a known, major cause of tooth decay and cavities. Even after the candy bars are devoured and your child’s themed bucket or bag has been emptied, sugar and plaque lurk in the crevices of your child’s teeth and cause cavities. If not removed by careful brushing, bacteria in the mouth will feed on the sugars and turn it into acid. This acid then attacks tooth enamel and causes tooth decay, i.e. cavities.

As a parent, it is important to make sure you have a clear understanding of what is okay to stay in the candy bucket and what should be tossed. Making sure that you have a chance to inspect your children’s Halloween loot before they dive in is extremely important.

Hard candies, like lollipops, can cause chipped teeth, choking, and the promotion of tooth decay, since they sit in the mouth for a long period of time. Look for Halloween treats that can be eaten quickly, like miniature candy bars. Sticky candies are also a red flag for oral health issues. When you get home from trick-or-treating, discard sticky candies like sugared fruit snacks, caramels, popcorn balls. It is hard for saliva to wash away these sticky sugars and they stay in the crevices of the teeth for long periods of time.

It is better for children to eat a serving of candy in one sitting rather than over time. Chomping on candy after school until dinner time will increase the amount of time sugar comes in contact with teeth. Instead, encourage your child to eat a small amount in one sitting followed by a glass of water and thorough tooth brushing. Once your child has eaten the goodies, make sure that your children use an age-appropriate fluoridated mouthwash every evening to strengthen their teeth and rebuild the enamel which helps prevent cavities.

Watching the amount of sugar we consume is good advice at Halloween and year-round for young and old alike. Regularly practice and encourage good oral health habits with your children, including brushing at least twice a day, flossing and visiting your dentist every six months to ensure the sugary villains don’t stick around on your children’s, or your teeth long after Halloween is over.

-- Dr. Doyle Williams