Dental Tribune USA

Halloween candy can be scary for teeth, dental professionals say

By Fred Michmershuizen, DTA
October 28, 2010

NEW YORK CITY: Halloween is a special time when kids of all ages take delight in being scared. Of course nobody really gets harmed, the ghoulishness is all part of the good-natured fun of the occasion. However, dental professionals say there is one thing about Halloween that could actually cause harm. It’s the candy, of course.*

“Long after the scary costumes are put away, the horror of cavities remain,” said Ellen Standley, president of the California Dental Hygienists’ Association (CDHA), one of several dental associations offering tips on getting through the Halloween season without causing damage to teeth. “Parents can let their children enjoy some candy, but just do it in a responsible way.”

More children suffer from dental decay than from asthma. In fact, according to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, dental caries is the most chronic disease of childhood. It affects 50% of children by middle childhood and 70% by late adolescence.

“Fun as it is, Halloween is really the start of the country’s candy and dessert intensive holiday season,” said Fred Joyal, founder of 1-800-DENTIST. “Between now and New Year’s, Americans will consume millions of sweets. Being smart about how and what they eat will help them avoid starting 2011 with serious dental problems.”

Excessive consumption of candy creates the perfect recipe for tooth decay. All candy is not created equal. Sour candy is the worst. This candy has an acid content on par with battery acid and has the power to cause even more damage to your teeth than regular sweets.

“Sour candy is one of the most frightening of all Halloween treats,” Standley said. “This new generation of candy is highly popular, but especially dangerous due to the high acid levels.”

“The key thing for parents to remember is that it is how often sugar is consumed, rather than how much sugar, which affects the chance of decay,” said Dr. Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation. “It takes the saliva in the mouth up to an hour to neutralize the acid. This means every time sugary foods or drinks are consumed, the teeth are under attack for an hour. If children are constantly snacking on sweet foods, their teeth never have a chance to recover completely.”

Parents should axe the sour candy and take other steps to protect their children’s teeth this Halloween, advises the CDHA as part of its public education campaign during National Dental Hygiene Month.

Sour candy comes in dozens of varieties and forms, including hard, soft, chewy, gummy, gels, liquid sprays, crystals, foam sprays, powders, cotton candy and chewing gums. According to the CDHA, most people think this type of candy is safer, but it is not. With repeated exposure and frequency, sour candy can also lead to a host of oral health problems, including increased cavities, tooth sensitivity, staining, soft-tissue sensitivities and dulling of teeth, according to the CDHA.

Here are more tips for people who want to enjoy Halloween while preventing tooth decay:

  • Don’t suck on hard candy for a long period of time because this bathes the teeth with plaque acids and continues for 20 to 40 minutes after finishing.
  • Go sugar-free. The best Halloween sweets for teeth are xylitol sugar-free candies and chewing gums. Xylitol, a natural non-fermentable sugar alcohol, not only fights the bacteria related to gum disease it also helps dental enamel crystals to re-mineralize.
  • Limit the frequency of candy exposure. Surprisingly, four candy bars eaten all at once cause less damage than one candy bar eaten over a long period of time. What counts is the number of times the teeth are exposed to sweets and how long they are in the mouth.
  • Brush your teeth or rinse with water after eating candy or sweet treats. But don’t brush your teeth directly after eating sour candy, as this will remove more of the already softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water immediately.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste to help re-mineralize the areas of the tooth broken down by the acid. Nightly, over the counter fluoride rinses help prevent the formation of cavities too.
  • Avoid or limit contact with candy labeled “sour” or “tart.” Remember that “sour” means “acid.”
  • Look for the following acids on the back label of ingredients and avoid them: “citric,” “lactic,” “malic,” “tartaric,” fumaric,” “adipic” and “ascorbic.”
  • Avoid hard candy. Hard candy is risky. Bite into a piece the wrong way, and you might wind up with a cracked tooth or broken crown. Suck on a piece of hard candy too long and your teeth will be overexposed to the sugars that dental plaque thrives on.
  • Choose chocolate. A perennial favorite, chocolate is a good choice because it melts quickly which limits your mouth’s exposure to harmful sugars. There’s more good news. Studies by the University of Osaka show that cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, may actually help reduce gum inflammation.
  • Don’t nibble. It’s actually better to enjoy three or four pieces of candy in one sitting than to eat the same number of treats over several hours. This is because nibbling greatly extends the length of time your mouth is exposed to harmful acids.
  • Limit sugar intake to three meals and two snacks a day. When possible sweet treats should be eaten at mealtimes, during meals extra saliva is produced and this can help rinse away extra sugars and bacteria.
  • Beware of potato chips and other carbohydrate snacks, which can also create an acid environment in the mouth and lead to cavities.
  • Consider giving out healthy snacks, such as fruit or breadsticks, or even small toys to trick-or-treaters.

“We want children to enjoy themselves at Halloween,” Carter said. “The trick is to find a middle ground, not to gorge on sweets for hours.”


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