We’re approaching the spookiest (and sweetest) time of year, and families across the country are making their plans for fun and excitement. Will you try a haunted maze in the area or go to a local pumpkin festival? Will you participate in a nearby trunk-or-treat or stick to trick-or-treating in your own neighborhood?
Whatever plans your family has for this Halloween, chances are they involve a lot of candy! And while we at Adam Brown, DDS don’t want to keep you from enjoying your sweets, we do want to provide some practical advice on how you can keep your family’s teeth healthy during the Halloween season and stay safe while trick-or-treating. But first, it will help to understand exactly how candy can impact your child’s teeth:
How Candy Affects Teeth
Though teeth are the strongest substance in the human body, plaque and tooth decay can do some serious damage to our teeth over time. Adults are susceptible to tooth decay and cavities, but children are the most vulnerable. So, it’s no surprise that the Halloween season is a time to take extra precautions. Dentists see cavities and tooth decay in kids all the time in the weeks following Halloween, with the culprit being sugary candy and other treats.
No one can deny the flavor of Halloween treats, but it’s essential to keep your child’s oral health in mind. Most tooth decay occurs when oral bacteria in our mouths produce acids by feeding off sugar. This acid begins to deteriorate tooth enamel, which is the tooth’s outer layer that protects it from decay. Tooth enamel cannot grow back once it wears off. Therefore, since children are more prone to tooth decay, be extra mindful of how much sugary food they eat.
When tooth decay progresses enough, cavities can form in your tooth, which can lead to severe discomfort and pain. And if cavities are allowed to keep growing, they can damage deeper layers of the tooth and eventually cause tooth loss. Halloween is a time for enjoying sweets, but your family must do it wisely and in moderation; otherwise, all of the candy, sweet treats, and sugary drinks can put each of you (especially your child) at risk for tooth decay and cavities, which are neither good for your oral health nor your wallet!
10 Tips for Healthy Teeth
Now that you have an idea of how sugary foods can impact your family’s teeth, let’s discuss some practical tips you can take to maintain your oral health in the weeks ahead:
1. Help your kids develop a healthy relationship with candy
The best way to ensure that your child keeps their teeth healthy is to help them understand the difference between moderation and overindulgence. They need to know that candy and other sweet treats should be limited and that eating too many of them can lead to serious consequences.
For a younger child, you will need to pay special attention to setting a good example. Since younger kids are more difficult to reason with, make sure you are modeling the behavior you are teaching them by consuming sugary foods in moderation yourself.
2. Pick the right candies
Eating any sugary candy or treats can negatively impact your teeth, but some are worse than others. For example, chocolate is generally less detrimental to teeth than sticky candy like Skittles and gummy bears. This is because it is quite easy to clean chocolate from your teeth, and fruity candies can get stuck onto and between teeth. Perhaps the best sweet treat of all is dark chocolate; not only does it carry health benefits, but it also easily washes off of your teeth.
3. Opt for sweet over sour
While sweet, sticky candies can be particularly damaging to teeth, sour candy is even worse. Most sour candies are sticky, which poses the same problem as other sticky candies. However, sour candy also contains a higher pH, which means more acid for your child’s teeth and gums! Limit the sour treats your child consumes so that you can keep their enamel healthy and strong.
4. Strategize when you eat candy
When candy abounds during the Halloween season, it is easy to graze and snack on sweets at random moments throughout the day. But if you plan out when your child is allowed to have their treats, you can help reduce the sugar’s impact on their teeth. Think of the times when your child will be brushing their teeth, and plan their snacks accordingly.
For instance, maybe they can have a sweet after they finish their lunch and then another one after dinner. That means that you will have more control of how much sugar sticks to their teeth on any given day. Plus, the saliva that kids produce during meals can help wash away food particles and bacteria, which means that eating candy immediately following meals can reduce the number of little pieces that cling to their teeth.
5. Set limits
Along with planning out what times of the day your child gets to eat sweets during the Halloween season, you will also want to limit how much they can have per sitting as the season phases out. For example, maybe a day or two after Halloween, give them a little less candy than they had the day before. Gradually give them fewer and fewer treats over the next several days until life is back to normal. In most cases, this is fairly easy and straightforward because kids have short attention spans! In no time, your child will likely forget about their Halloween sweets!
6. Prioritize regular oral hygiene
Helping your child maintain a consistent oral hygiene routine is always critical. And you want to make sure that they don’t take any shortcuts during the Halloween season when they are eating more candy than normal. Make sure your child brushes their teeth thoroughly before bed, in the morning, and after each snack. Rather than flossing once a day, consider helping them floss twice a day until they finish their Halloween treats.
7. Drink lots of water
Any dentist is likely to recommend that your child drinks as much water as they can each day. This is primarily because water is a much healthier alternative to sodas, juices, and other sugary beverages that tend to be terrible for little teeth. But there is another reason why you should make sure your child drinks a lot of water in the days surrounding Halloween— it can go a long way in keeping their mouth clean and washing the sugar and bacteria away, which means they will have lower risks of tooth decay and other problems.
8. Use sugarless gum
It might be ideal for your child to brush after every time they eat candies or other sweets. But this might not always be practical, especially when your family is enjoying Halloween activities together.
That’s where sugarless gum comes into play! Chewing sugarless gum for twenty minutes after meals and snacks can increase saliva production, which helps to neutralize the acid in your mouth and wash out the food and bacteria. In other words, it is yet another simple step you can take to prevent tooth decay and keep your mouths healthy.
9. Strike a balance
Eating more sweets means that you should be eating more healthy foods as well. For example, eating candy bars, sour worms, and Jolly Ranchers should be balanced out by milk and low-sugar dairy foods that give your teeth calcium and help them stay strong and healthy. Cheese, in particular, can lower the pH in the mouth, and any natural, crunchy foods (e.g. carrots, cucumbers, and apples) are great for cleaning teeth as you’re eating. To take it a step further, these types of foods can even loosen plaque from teeth and wash away bacteria.
10. Don’t brush right away
Lastly, consider waiting about one hour for your child to brush their teeth after consuming any candies or sweets that are highly acidic. Brushing too soon after eating such candies can increase the harmful effects of the acid in their mouth.
Which Candies Are OK for Braces?
If your child has braces, there are some special considerations you will want to make when Halloween arrives. Certain candies and treats will be harder than others to clean from braces, not to mention that some will also pose a higher risk of damaging the brackets and wires themselves.
For instance, be wary of any hard or sticky treats, such as Starbursts, Skittles, jawbreakers, caramel apples, and gummy bears. Also, steer clear of popcorn, popcorn balls, and any other foods that tend to get stuck in braces. Believe it or not, there are plenty of treats your child can enjoy that won’t pose any serious risks. Reese’s cups, regular M&Ms, cotton candy, brownies, cupcakes, Pixy Stix, and Mounds are some examples of sweets that shouldn’t impact their braces if eaten in moderation.
8 Tips for a Safe, Fun Trick-or-Treat
Okay, so we’ve discussed some steps you can take to keep your family’s teeth healthy during the candy-heavy Halloween season. Let’s get to some quick tips for how you can plan for an awesome and safe trick-or-treat experience.
1. Plan your path
Make sure the route you take on Halloween night is safe and not too long. If you have younger children, you probably shouldn’t expect to stay out for five hours, though you might be able to get away with a long night if you have teenagers. Consider doing a test run before you go trick-or-treating to figure out how long the route is and which paths you should take. Along with keeping everyone safe, this will help prevent arguments on Halloween night and ensure that no one gets lost if they are separated from the family.
2. Pay attention to the candies you get
Each time a piece of candy is dropped in your child’s bucket, you should inspect it before they put it into their mouth. Handmade treats are a kind gesture, but since you cannot be sure what the treats contain, you may not want to give them to your kids. If you see any candy wrappers tampered with, throw them out immediately.
3. Take a flashlight
Along with planning the route you take on Halloween night, bring along a flashlight to help reduce the likelihood that one of your children will wander off and get separated from the group. And while you should only go trick-or-treating on well-lit streets, you might want to bring some reflective tape to stick to your children’s costumes and coats, just to make sure they are clearly visible to drivers.
4. Wear comfortable shoes
Trick-or-treating requires a lot of walking, which means that each person in your family should wear a comfortable pair of tennis shoes. Even if some of your outfits call for high heels, sandals, or another type of uncomfortable footwear, wearing tennis shoes will help everyone enjoy their time and prevent injuries.
5. Stick with your group
One of the biggest fears for parents is that one of their children will get separated from the group on a dark Halloween night. Along with taking extra precautions to ensure that your younger children stay by your side, however, you should also be mindful of where your older kids are. Your older children should not be trick-or-treating without you unless they are with a group of friends who you know would adhere to all the safety rules.
6. Don’t go into a stranger’s home
Chances are you have spoken to your kids about stranger danger. And that philosophy is perhaps never more important than on Halloween night. When trick-or-treating, remind your kids about the rules regarding strangers, and never allow them to enter someone else’s home. To take it a step further, make sure they know not to approach a house for candy unless the lights are on.
7. Check your costumes
There are all kinds of creative Halloween costumes out there. While you want your kids to enjoy their costumes and make the most out of their experience, you also want to make sure they are safe. Inspect your child’s costume to ensure that it is the appropriate length so they don’t trip while trick-or-treating. And only allow them to carry accessories that are flexible and soft to prevent any unnecessary injuries.
8. Be careful around flames
Finally, even the smallest flame from a jack-o-lantern can catch a costume on fire. Be extra mindful as your family enjoys the festive decorations on your route, but make sure that you and your children steer clear of all candles, torches, and other items that contain a flame. And only wear flame-resistant costumes.
Halloween is meant to provoke excitement for children and adults alike. But to ensure that your family makes the most of the Halloween season, it is essential to prioritize oral health and take the appropriate safety measures when trick-or-treating. And of course, be sure to schedule check-ups at Adam Brown, DDS to keep your teeth and gums healthy!