Halloween candy -- you know you want some, it's not all bad.

Kids, Cavities and Candy

As we recover from Halloween 2011, dentists are sensitive to the parent-predicament. “No one wants to spend the first two weeks of November saying 'no, you cannot have the candy, we're giving all the candy away!',” says Dr. Jay H. Samuels, a North Bethesda, Maryland-based dentist. “We were kids once too. I myself like candy. But now, as a dentist, I want my patients to understand that while the holiday and the days after should be about fun and sweets, like everything else in life, it is also about making good and bad choices.”

And here’s the great news for parents and kids alike: Candy choice is not about limiting candy consumption, but rather it is about the longevity of the candy. In other words, how long a piece of candy stays in the mouth. That’s the key to deciding what to eat and what not to eat in the world of candy. “When their children are eating candy it’s the one time parents should not tell children to slow-down!” says Dr. Samuels. “Eating candy fast is a good thing because it decreases the amount of time that sugar has contact with the teeth and that’s a good thing. The sticky sweets cause the biggest problems; not only does the sugar stay in the mouth for a longer, the gooey candies grab at the teeth and hold on tight.”

Dr. Samuels says parents do not have to spend the evening (and the days after Halloween) saying “no” to their children, but rather can use the day to infuse lessons about healthy teeth.

Besides sweet-tooth breakthroughs, such a cavity-fighting lollipops, there are actually some candies that are better than others. Understanding the root cause of cavities is key to separating out the good, the bad and the ugly. First, cavities (and tooth decay) are caused by acid-producing bacteria; Bacteria is fueled by sugar. Therefore any foods (not just candy) that break down into sugar are tough on the teeth. Refined carbohydrates (e.g., white crackers, pretzels, white pasta) are bad guys too. Therefore, the packages of pretzels that some people give out as the “healthy alternative to candy” are just as bad, if not worse, than many candy choices.

There’s a simple formula parents and kids can remember: 

Longer in the mouth = Greater the chance of cavities.

In keeping with the fast-paced world in which we are raising our children, this concept should feel right to children who are used to immediate gratification.  “Children (and adults) should chose candy that can be swallowed quickly, candies that don’t stay in the mouth for a long time,” says Dr. Samuels. The shorter the time in your mouth, the less cavity-producing.” For example, chocolate (not chewy chocolate) is a better choice. Here are the rules:

1. Avoid hard candies that hang around in the mouth.

2. Choose sugar-free hard candies

3. Eat candy with a meal because when you eat, saliva production increases. This, in turn, neutralizes acids and helps rinse away food particles.

4. Avoid sticky candies that cling to the teeth: e.g. Taffies, Gummy Bears, Tootsie Rolls.

5. Drink more water

6. Brush teeth after eating (especially after eat foods that break down into sugars)

7. Chew sugar free gum after eating. The American Dental Association has placed their seal of approval on a number of chewing gum brands

As we head into Halloween, this statistic should stick like a bad piece of chewy candy: the average American consumes 180 pounds of sugar and 24.7 pounds of candy per year. “But, this does not need to mean cavities and tooth decay,” says Dr. Samuels, for whom dental health is a top priority.


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