To Eat or Not to Eat?
Published: September 30, 2015
By: Carol Muse Evans
Every kid wants to come home after an evening of trick or treating or a trunk or treat party, dump out their bag of goodies, and start eating. But every mom and dad wonders if the child will be sick, and also if it could have long-term consequences like damage to their teeth or braces. But how do you limit these treats on this holiday without sucking the fun out of Halloween? And how much really is bad?
“All candy can be detrimental to teeth but the access at Halloween makes the issue worse for children,” says Dr. Lisa Wilson of Lisa Wilson Family Dentistry.
“With a holiday like Halloween, what you need is a balance,” says Rainie Carter, registered dietician at Children’s of Alabama. “I recommend limiting your child to one to three ‘fun size’ treats per day, and do it right after a meal – not as a snack or right after school.”
Dr. Stephanie Steinmetz, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and dentist at Steinmetz Pediatric Dentistry in Vestavia Hills, echoes the eating candy in one sitting idea. “It is more desirable to have candy around mealtime when salivary flow is higher so the sugary treats clear the mouth faster – and by eating it at the same time, it is one sugar exposure for the teeth,” she explains. In addition, Carter says walking to trick or treat, rather than riding in a car, is a great way to get exercise and walk off those treats in advance.
WHAT ABOUT THEIR TEETH?
“The good news is not all Halloween candy is bad for your teeth,” says Steinmez. “Halloween candy is hard to resist, even for a dentist. Don’t deny your children a fun Halloween.”
“Eating Halloween candy on Halloween is not dangerous to your teeth,” says Richard Baxter, DMD, MS, of Shelby Pediatric Dentistry in Pelham. “The concern is when the candy is eaten frequently throughout the year and becomes a habit. For example, it’s much better for your child to allow them to eat whatever candy they want on Halloween night, and then get rid of the rest.”
“Eating crunchy, nutty, sticky, sweet, candy can be damaging to the teeth,” according to Olga Sanchez-Hernandez, DMD, MS, MS, of McCalla Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry. “Candy that is sticky takes a long time to dissolve and it sits on the grooves of the teeth giving the bacteria in the mouth more opportunity to cause cavities. It can also pull fillings, sealants, caps and appliances off the teeth. “And with orthodontic appliances these treats can cause damage to orthodontic wires, brackets and bands, causing a delay in treatment,” Sanchez-Hernandez says.
“Halloween candy itself is not bad,” says Dr. William Adrian Lovell, III, DMD, of Lovell Pediatric Dentistry. “It is the habits of the parents and the child that can have a negative effect of the health of the teeth.”
“There is a natural bacterium in the mouth (called streptococcus mutans) that feed on the sugar in the candy,” according to Drs. Clark Thomas and Lauten Johnson of Pediatric and Adolescent Dentistry. “Once exposed to sugar, the bacteria then break down into an acid that eats away at the enamel of the tooth.”
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR CHILD’S TEETH
“The night of the fun, try making a game out of it and go through all of the prizes,” says Dr. Angelica Rohner of Angelica Rohner Pediatric Dentistry in Homewood. “Go through their stash and separate out the chocolates, sticky candy, and any unsafe, partially opened items. It is up to the parent to decide what they want the child to have, but we suggest limiting what is kept to half and donate the rest,” Rohner says. “Not only is it better for their oral and physical health but it can be a good way to teach your child to share and give to others. “
If you must eat sweet candy, be sure your child brushes her teeth very well right after, Sanchez-Hernandez says. “We recommend that parents monitor oral hygiene, limit sugary snacks and then choose the healthier candy options for their kids,” Thomas and Johnson say. “Healthier options include sugar-free lollipops, sugar-free chewing gum, and candy sweetened with xylitol instead of sugar, or chocolate (because it is less likely to get stuck in the grooves of their teeth).” Dr. Carol Ann Nicrosi, DMD, MS, of Gardendale echoes looking for sugar-free choices. “Xylitol is a sweetener found in some gum and candies that has been show to help decrease plaque formation thereby helping protect teeth. Parents should look for xylitol-sweetened products for their children.”
The best dental procedures to protect a child’s teeth from candy are dental sealants,” says Richard Baxter, DMD, MS, of Shelby Pediatric Dentistry in Pelham. “These protective coating ‘seals’ the grooves so the candy does not get stuck deep in the molar where it is difficult to clean. However, sticky candy like Jolly Ranchers, Tootsie Rolls, caramels and taffy can actually pull the sealants off, or pull off crowns or other dental work, so be careful.”
Rohner adds that one of the best ways to protect your child’s teeth is simply by limiting the amount and time that the candy is consumed. “For example, after dinner you can allow your child to have 3 pieces and then it’s time to brush/floss before bed,” Rohner explains. “What this does is limit the amount of time that the sugar has to sit on the surface of the teeth. The prolonged exposure to sugar or cariogenic foods is the main cause of cavities in children.”
“When talking to your dentist, don’t deny any habits you or your child have,” adds Lovell. “Have an honest conversation about what your child east and when. He or she can then make recommendations for modifying habits scheduling more frequent dental visits or for preventative measures you can take at home.”
“Visiting your dentist twice a year and brushing daily are great preventive measures, but doing away with excess sweets would really give your teeth a healthy boost. This is a great way to support our troops and receive fewer cavities,” says Dr. Michael Anglin and Dr. Erin Nelson of Hoover.
CANDY BUY-BACK AND TRADE/DONATION PROGRAMS
- Dr. Michael S. Anglin and Dr. Erin D. Nelson, 3825 Lorna Road Suite 206, Hoover, AL 35244.Operation Gratitude: Bring in excess candy to Anglin and Nelson’s office, Monday, Nov. 3, 3-5:30 p.m., and receive $1 per pound for up to 5 pounds of unopened candy along with a goody bag. All participants will also be entered into a drawing to win a Sonicare electric toothbrush. Turned in candy will be sent to American military members.
- McCalla Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry, 4814 Bell Hill Rd., Bessemer, AL 35022, Olga Sanchez-Hernandez, DMD, MS, MS. Candy Buy Back Program Monday, Nov. 1 and Tuesday, Nov. 2 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Will offer $1 per pound, up to 5 pounds.
- Pediatric and Adolescent Dentistry at Hoover: 1015 Brocks Gap Pkwy., Hoover, AL 35244, and Mountain Brook: 3918 Montclair Road Suite 206, Birmingham, AL 35213. Candy can be dropped off at either location from Oct 31-Nov. 19 to be shipped to U.S. military troops. The patient with the biggest candy donation receives a $100 gift card.
- Dr. Angelica Rohner Pediatric Dentistry, 2045 Brookwood Medical Center Dr. #21, Birmingham, AL 35209. This year is Rohner’s fourth event and they are participating in Operation Gratitude. Candy Buyback Mon, Nov.2; Tues., Nov. 3; and Wed., Nov.4, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. each day. Paying CASH for candy.
- Dr. Lisa Wilson, DMD, 5470 Caldwell Mill Road, Birmingham, AL 35242. Candy Buy Back program Mon., Nov., 2 from 2-5 p.m. Candy will be “bought” at $1 per pound, and children can write a personal note to the troops overseas, and candy and notes will be sent to Operation Gratitude.