Fangs for the Memories: Surprising Facts About Toothsome Treats

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By Jaclyn Best

Jaclyn Best is a journalist and student at Metropolitan State University. 

Halloween is a time for tricks, treats and…tooth decay?  While dressing up and going door to door for candy can be fun for kids, it may not be so much fun for their teeth.  There are many different kinds of Halloween candy, but some simple guidelines can help parents determine the best treats for their children, and their teeth.

Before your child goes trick-or-treating, it can be a good idea to serve a robust and nourishing meal to lessen the temptation to eat a lot of candy.  After an adventurous evening of trick-or-treating, it is usually wise to sort out your child’s candy and ensure that nothing has been tampered with.  Since not all candy has the same ingredients or the same way to eat it, some types are better than others.  The following guidelines can help parents make better informed decisions on which candies are better, and which are worse:

  • RESIDENCE TIME: Each type of candy has a different residence time in the mouth (i.e. the amount of time spent sitting in the mouth).  For example, eating a candy bar can be a smarter choice than hard candies or breath mints; a bar is eaten faster than a slowly dissolving piece of candy.
  • STICKY CANDY: Sticky candy (like gummy bears) can increase the risk of tooth decay because of its ability to stick to a child’s teeth, therefore taking longer to be washed away by saliva.  Chewing sugarless gum can increase saliva flow in your child’s mouth and decrease the likelihood of tooth decay.  Sugarless gum containing the ingredient xylitol has been proven to decrease bacteria in the mouth that feeds tooth decay.
  • POWDERY CANDY: This type of sweet can be more beneficial to growing mouths.  For example, pixie sticks are a better candy choice, as one can pour the powder directly on the tongue.  The powder quickly dissolves, therefore not spending as much time in the mouth.
  • CITRIC ACID: This ingredient is found more predominantly in sour candy.  It helps to bring out the sour taste in sweets.  This type of acid can cause erosion and cavities.  It may be best to avoid this ingredient any time.
  • HOW OFTEN TO EAT CANDY: Dentists recommend eating more candy in one sitting as opposed to eating pieces over the span of a few hours.  If one eats sweets throughout the day, tooth decay becomes more of a possibility as the teeth continue to be exposed to sugar.
  • DRINKING WATER: After eating your favorite treats, it can be wise to drink water, or even swish it around your mouth.  This helps to dissolve the deposits from candy.

The good news for parents (and kids) is that most pediatric dentists agree that candy in moderation is okay for growing teeth.  However, it is also a good idea for parents to supervise their children’s sugar intake.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that tooth decay affects children more than any other disease.  Those children with tooth decay experience much discomfort and struggle with everyday tasks such as eating, drinking, talking and playing.  To prevent children from developing this horrible tooth disease, many dentists recommend that parents adopt healthy habits, like brushing and flossing.  When children see their parents do these activities, they will be more interested and inclined to try it themselves.

There are several signs and symptoms that indicate whether your child may have tooth decay.  Tooth decay has very specific signs, like chalky areas around the gums (on the teeth).  Actual decay appears as brown spots covering the upper portion of their teeth.  Both of these signs require immediate dental treatment.  The signs for gum disease are sore/bleeding gums that pull away from their teeth, swollen gums, and persistent bad breath (even with brushing and flossing).  While gum disease can sometimes be remedied at home (by brushing and flossing), it is still recommended that one consults a pediatric dentist.