It’s that time of year again! Children come home with their bags full of candy after a fun night of trick-or treating and want to indulge. Parents know that the candy is high in sugar and bad for teeth, and yet it is the one part of Halloween that excites children more than anything else. How does a parent reduce their children’s risk of cavities from all that candy while not arguing with their kids over the fun of eating it? The Center for Health Literacy has put together some “better,” and then “best” ways that the American Dental Association and current research says can help reduce tooth decay risks during Halloween:
Better Ways to Limit the Risk of Getting Cavities during Halloween:
1. Switch out sour candies for chocolate: Sour and tart candies contain acids that weaken the tooth and wear away tooth enamel. Tooth enamel is essential for healthy teeth because its protective covering protects teeth from decay. The sour flavor candies have a low pH value, which means that they are very high in acidity.
2. Switch out sticky candies for sugar-free gum: Sticky candies such as taffy and hard suckers that stay in the mouth for a while create greater risk of tooth decay because the acids attack the teeth longer than with chocolate that melts or is chewed immediately.
3. Eat the candy with lunch or dinner! Actually, according to the American Dental Association, it is better to eat sweets with meals rather than as a separate snack. This is because when we eat a meal, our mouths produce a lot more saliva than when we eat a smaller amount of food. The extra saliva helps to rinse away the candy and the acids left on the teeth.
4. Eat some candy in one sitting and then put it away: Slowly snacking on Halloween candy every few hours, day after day, keeps teeth bathed in the cavity-producing acid, which leads to cavities. When a few candy bars are eaten at once, acid builds up in the mouth, but saliva will neutralize this acid over the course of an hour or so and then the acid is gone. But if one candy bar is eaten every half hour, acid is constantly being produced and it overwhelms the amount of saliva that can wash it away.
5. Limit soda and other junk foods during Halloween: During this time of year, children may have Halloween parties at school or at a friend’s houses, and soda is almost always means present. Encourage children to drink more water or other beverages that are non-carbonated and/or sugar-free. Also, drinking with a straw can limit the contact between the soda and their teeth. If possible, have children rinse their mouth with water after drinking soda.
6. Make sure children brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and use a new toothbrush as a reward: Use Halloween as a time to replace toothbrushes, because a toothbrush with frayed bristles is not going to clean the teeth as effectively. Replace toothbrushes about every 3 to 4 months.
Best Ways to Reduce Risk of Cavities during Halloween:
7. Switch out candy for non-candy treats: Find inexpensive alternatives to distribute to children for Trick or Treating, such as: sugar-free gum; small bags of pretzels; stickers and temporary tattoos; mini-cans of play dough; toothbrushes; pencils and erasers; plastic decoder rings; and bouncing balls. Create a “trading” game with the children when they return from trick or treating, where they hand over candy in exchange for these types of non-candy items that you provide them.
8. Just a few candies: Start a new tradition where children can choose 5 of their favorite pieces of candy to eat after getting home from trick or treating. The rest of the candy that was collected is thrown away.
For more information, email Katherine Garcia or give her a call: (301) 405-9435
Written by Nasreen Jones, Intern, Herschel S. Horowitz Center for Health Literacy, University of Maryland
Loewen, R. R., Marolt, R. J., & Ruby, J. D. (2008). Pucker up: The effects of sour candy on your patient’s oral health: A review of the dental erosion literature and pH values for popular candies.