The spookiest thing on Halloween isn’t fake blood and chainsaw-wielding zombies. It isn’t realizing that you’ve run out of peanut butter cups as ghosts and goblins are at your doorstep. It isn’t even the howls of coyotes against the backdrop of a full moon.
No, the spookiest thing on Halloween is the bacteria that thrives in our mouths after consuming those lollipops and fun-sized candy bars. And, there is plenty of opportunity for bacteria to skulk around in children’s mouths — a trick-or-treater receives an average of 90.9 pieces of candy, according to the American Dental Association.
Many children have good intentions of stockpiling their sugary payload to get them through winter. Yet, when visions of peanut butter cups and licorice whips are haunting them morning, noon and night, it’s hard to deny oneself the pleasure.
Interestingly, in a 2012 ADA and PopCap Games survey, two-thirds of the 750 children aged from 5 to 13 years who responded admitted that they eat too much candy at Halloween. But, knowing they eat too much candy typically doesn’t inspire children to cut down on the intake. To make that happen, they need some parental guidance.
Fortunately, a few simple practices can stave off the scary-looking brown spots of tooth decay and cavities.
Believe it or not, there is a “better” time to eat candy, which is with or shortly after meals. Somehow, I don’t see parents racing to position milk duds on the dinner plate between meatloaf and green beans. Yet, according to ADA dentist Dr. Ana Ferraz-Dougherty, “Saliva production increases during meals. This helps cancel out acids produced by bacteria in your mouth and rinse away food particles.” For this reason, milk duds pair well with meatloaf, more so than grazing all day over the candy bowl.
Not all candies are created equal when it comes to tooth decay. Hard candy and sticky candy, like taffy and gummies, that aren’t easily washed away by saliva, stay in your mouth longer than other candies. It makes sense – the longer that candy is in your mouth, the more time bacteria has to affix itself to the teeth, gums and mouth.
Drink fluoridated water to help prevent tooth decay (and, if you have well water at home, ask your children’s physician if they should take fluoride tablets.) Chewing sugarless gum (with the ADA seal) for 20 minutes after meals helps increase saliva flow to keep bacteria at bay. Floss teeth once a day, brush twice a day for two minutes and keep regular appointments with the dentist. The ADA notes that less than half of all children brush their teeth twice a day.
Consider picking out some candy and donating the rest. And, if you will be welcoming trick-or-treaters, consider giving gum with an ADA seal or non-candy treats. Stickers, Halloween straws or cups, tattoos, spider rings or pretzels are good alternatives.
Cutting Halloween candy out cold turkey would only make your children want candy even more. Instead, let your children enjoy Halloween candy in moderation, and follow these recommendations. You’ll help your child develop good oral hygiene to have strong, white and healthy teeth that would be the envy of any vampire.
Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.