Health: Halloween is a scary time for children’s teeth

By Debbie Howes Fleming Published:

A group of children between the ages of eight and 13 recently responded to a question about their biggest Halloween fear. Most adults thought the answers would involve their costume, types of candy and the amount of treats they would receive and fear concerning dark and scary creatures. Surprisingly, 43 percent said they were afraid of getting cavities from eating too much candy.

It is the sugar and carbohydrates in candy, drinks and food that feed the bacteria that causes tooth decay. Even healthier or better snack choices such as nuts and dried fruit may be harmful to teeth. It is more damaging to bathe the teeth in sugary substances for long periods of time than it is to eat the food in the first place.

Several years ago, there was a trend to hand out toothbrushes, dental floss or small toys on Halloween. This practice did not last very long due to the complaints heard from trick-or-treaters. Since 90 percent of children go trick-or-treating and return home with bags of candy, perhaps that 43 percent who fear cavities are correct in their fear.

It is Halloween after all and candy is on the menu. According to Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson Cynthia Sherwood, “Of course, dentists do not advocate that children eat large amounts of sugary treats, but it is that time of year, so we want to clarify for parents which treats are better for their kids’ teeth and which ones may increase the risk of developing cavities.”

The worst treats are chewy or gummy candies and bubble gum. Candy corn, cakes, cookies and caramels are loaded with sugar and are more likely to stick to the teeth. Other culprits include those sour candies that most kids love. They are loaded with acids that also harm tooth enamel and promote decay.

Sugar-free lollipops, small bags of healthier snacks like pretzels and sugar-free gum are much better choices. The lollipops increase saliva that helps to wash food particles from the teeth. Sugar-free gum has been shown to reduce tooth decay. It helps by removing particles of food from the teeth and increasing saliva to wash the particles away. Of course, some experts feel that dark chocolate is a better choice over milk chocolate since it may be good for the heart.

The best way for parents and caregivers to protect children’s teeth and promote overall health and well being is to monitor what the child eats especially at Halloween. Limit the amount of sugary sweets and eliminate beverages that are full of sugar and acids. If you provide Halloween treats, consider healthier alternatives. These tips might help to eliminate the fear of 43 percent of trick-or-treaters.

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