Article by Dr. Maureen Piché, sharing a dentist’s perspective on Halloween candy.
CANDY! CANDY! CANDY! I can hear the refrain already. Halloween is a fantastic holiday with the crisp fall air, costumes, decorations and parties. I even love that slightly scared feeling with all the spookiness about; the sudden rush of adrenaline that lifts the hair on the back of my neck and goose bumps run down my spine. But the Halloween candy is really it, isn’t it? It’s the thing that the kids are most excited about. There is no staying away from it, we all get a little sugar rush going for the start of November. I know once that chocolate hits my front doorstep my resolve weakens.
As a dentist there are some things at this time of year I do a little differently than most. I know my kids and I are going to indulge in Halloween candy, that’s part of life and part of the fun. Just the approach is a little different. Understanding how and why cavities form helps to avoid them at this and all times of the year.
Halloween Candy: Knowledge is Power
A cavity is as it sounds, a simple hole. But how does the hardest structure in the human body develop a hole? The answer is acid. Bacteria in your mouth produce acid from sugar and carbs. This acid erodes the enamel. As teeth lose mineral content and the enamel gets weaker, eventually it becomes is so weak it collapses and a cavity is left. When it comes to eating sugar, duration, frequency and consistency impact decay.
Binge is Best
Duration is really about how long you are eating for. Guzzling back a root beer is better than sipping it over an hour. Same goes for your morning coffee with sugar. Lollipops, hard candies and jaw breakers have staying power and break the duration rule. The idea of your kids consuming a whole lot of candy at once might seem counter-intuitive, but it is probably better to set a time limit on a candy binge than a number limit.
Think about how often the Halloween candy is eaten also. Eating three pieces of candy spaced out in the day is worse than three pieces at once. It takes close to 20 minute for your saliva to buffer the acid after eating sugar back to a normal level. So if you are eating every half hour your teeth are spending more time in a decaying state than not. If you space it out instead, the enamel can regain the strength in between.
While we want to limit how much Halloween candy kids eat, don’t dole it out a bit at a time, dragging it out over days and weeks.
Consistency is something we don’t often talk about. However, it is easy to imagine that foods that stick to teeth are in the mouth longer and more likely to cause decay. Gummy candies and tootsie rolls come to mind, but parents often forget the residue left by cracker and muffins. Because breads are not ‘sugar’ they don’t share the same blame that candy does for cavities but are the larger culprit in most diets. Digestion starts in the mouth. Saliva breaks carbs down into sugars. This feeds the bacteria that produce acid.
Halloween Candy Helpers
Simple things like drinking lots of water can help rinse sugar away. Chewing sugar-free gum stimulates saliva flow doing much the same thing. A strong mineral foundation promoted by toothpastes and rinses containing fluoride or recaldent help to prevent the loss of minerals as well. If kids aren’t brushing after lunch then that might be a good time to use a rinse, even if only on the weekends. And of course, be mindful about cleaning after eating Halloween candy.
White spot lesions are an early sign of decay that your dentist can help you identify. And whether you’re eating a lot of Halloween candy or not, visiting your dentist for regular exams and cleaning will help your kids’ teeth stay healthy.
Dr. Maureen Piché HB.Sc, D.M.D. is a practising general dentist in Richmond, B.C. She is a graduate of the University of British Columbia and a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentists. Her practice is centered on individualized patient oral health, function and aesthetic. She’s also a wife and mother of a three year old girl and nine month old boy. Kids under two are seen free in her clinic or by donation to Operation Smile. She maintains a blog on family dentistry and preventative focused care at www.harmonydentalstudio.com.