October is here, which means the patients at Bitesize Pediatric Dentistry have one thing on their minds: Halloween! Whether you’ll be taking the kids trick-or-treating, enjoying the various NYC Halloween events or staying home to celebrate, we know there’s a good chance there will be plenty of candy and sweets involved. As a kids’ dentist in Brooklyn, we’d never tell our patients to skip out on all of the treats, but there are things you can do to keep kids’ teeth healthy during the spooky season.
Is Candy Bad for Teeth?
While, yes, regularly eating candy is bad for teeth, any food or drink that’s starchy or high in sugar will have the same effect. A sticky bacterial film, called plaque, clings to the teeth. The bacteria in plaque feed on the sugars and starches kids (or adults!) eat and release acids that attack the tooth enamel. When this happens often enough, it can lead to cavities.
When it comes to sugar and teeth, however, it’s not only the amount of sugar a child eats but also how frequently they’re eating it. When the bacteria in the mouth feed on sugars and starches, they release those acids for about 20 minutes afterwards. Every bite of food or sip of a drink restarts the clock. So, frequent snacking or leisurely sipping sugary drinks will prolong the enamel’s exposure to the acid attacks, further increasing the risk of tooth decay in children.
Tips for a Tooth-Friendly Halloween
Now that you know why sugary food like candy can be harmful to children’s oral health, here are 6 tips for minimizing damage, while still enjoying those Halloween treats.
1. Limit or Avoid the Three Worst Types of Candy for Kids’ Teeth
Not all candy is created equal and some Halloween favorites are worse than others. If possible, limit or avoid:
While people sometimes think things like fruity, gummy candy is healthier because, well…fruit, Sour Patch Kids, Starburst and gummy treats are actually among the worst candy for teeth. The same goes for other sticky candy, such as Tootsie Rolls.
These choices aren’t just high in sugar, they also adhere to the teeth and are harder to remove. This means the sugar is hanging around, feeding the bacteria in your child’s mouth and dragging out the acid attacks we talked about.
If your child has braces, then it’s even more important to avoid sticky and chewy candies. They can damage their appliance and will get stuck in the brackets and wires.
Hard Candies and Lollipops
Hard candies and lollipops are designed to be enjoyed slowly. When kids eat them, their teeth are bathed in sugar the entire time they’re sucking on the candy, causing bacteria to have a feeding frenzy and produce cavity-causing acids for much longer than normal.
Sour candies have the one-two punch of sugar and acidity. The acidity lowers your child’s oral pH even further, weakening their enamel and making it more susceptible to the damaging effects of acid attacks. If kids do eat sour candy, have them rinse their mouth out with water after indulging and wait about 30 minutes to brush their teeth. Brushing right away can inadvertently damage the enamel in its temporarily weakened state.
2. Encourage Little Ones to Choose Better Options
While a lollipop or a few sticky candies won’t lead to instant cavities, if you can, encourage kids to choose less of those and go for more smile-friendly options. Anything that can be eaten quickly and is simple to rinse or brush away is ideal, such as most chocolate candy. Chocolate washes off the teeth way easier than the majority of sweets. If your child likes dark chocolate, even better, because it contains less sugar than milk or white chocolate and has a number of health benefits.
Candy bars with nuts are also preferable over some other treats. While they’re not a healthy food and they still contain lots of sugar, the nuts give it a little nutritional boost and break up the stickiness a bit.
Sugar-free candies and sugarless gum make the cut too because they won’t cause cavities, though they can sometimes contain hard-to-pronounce ingredients. Look for ones sweetened with xylitol, which is safe and helps to prevent tooth decay.
3. Aim for Balance the Rest of the Day
Most kids are going to eat candy on Halloween. Hey, it’s part of the excitement! Instead of stressing too much about their candy choices, try to ensure they eat a healthy diet the rest of the day to balance out the sugar. Build their meals around vegetables, fruit, lean protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and low-fat dairy. It wouldn’t hurt to throw in some foods that strengthen teeth like yogurt, milk, crunchy veggies (i.e., celery, carrots, etc.), leafy greens and walnuts.
4. Don’t Skip Brushing and Flossing
After an exciting night of trick-or-treating, it can be tempting to let the kids roll right into bed. But, be sure they thoroughly brush and floss their teeth first. You’ll probably need to help or supervise younger kids to make sure they don’t miss any candy remnants. By being diligent with brushing their teeth twice a day and flossing once daily all year-round, the occasional piece of candy or treat full of sugar won’t result in tooth decay.
5. Set a Time Limit for Kids to Enjoy Their Halloween Spoils
Like we mentioned earlier, eating or sipping for long periods of time prolongs the enamel’s exposure to sugar and acids. When kids get home and you’ve checked their candy, set a time limit of say 15 or 20 minutes to eat treats in one sitting and then have them save the rest for another day.
6. Offer Leftover Candy as Part of a Larger Meal
For any leftover candy, make it a habit to give kids a piece of two with their lunch or dinner. According to the American Dental Association, eating sweets with a larger meal is ideal because the flow of saliva increases more during meals than during snacks. The saliva helps neutralize cavity-causing acids and washes away food particles.
Connect With a Kids’ Dentist in Brooklyn Today!
Now that you’re all set for a smile-friendly Halloween, are you looking for a fun, friendly kids’ dentist in Brooklyn? Schedule a visit for your child at Bitesize Pediatric Dentistry. Our pediatric dentists are experts in kids’ oral health and make dental visits an engaging, stress-free experience for little ones and parents alike.