The scariest aspect of Halloween isn’t the goblins and ghouls or scary clowns, instead it is the damage a sustained increase in sugar can do to your teeth. While the littlest of monsters in your family may roll their eyes at this warning while they pillage their candy conquests, it is a real concern for everyone who likes to indulge in the treats. Eliminating all candy – especially on Halloween – is nearly as impossible as making it through a haunted house without screaming. However, there are ways that make eating sugary treats less harmful to the teeth. Although this sounds about as realistic as the tales of the Headless Horseman, sugar itself doesn’t cause cavities. Instead they are caused by a dynamic relationship between tooth decay and the breakdown of enamel. This isn’t a trick; keep reading to find out how to best enjoy your treats!
Before indulging in the [gummy] fruits of your labor, eat a meal high in calcium. Foods such as cheese and yogurt help protect tooth enamel and replace minerals in the teeth. This process, known as remineralization, helps to strengthen teeth and shore up the enamel which is the first line of defense against tooth decay. Not only delicious, these foods are an important part of a healthy diet.
Limit the number of times you teeth are exposed to sugar. Having Halloween candy sitting around and just grazing on it over an extended period of time is detrimental to your teeth. Each time your teeth come in contact with sugar acids are produced that attack your teeth for at least twenty minutes. If you slowly eat candy throughout the day, these acids are always present and speed up the rate of tooth decay. While binging on candy is not encouraged for a balanced diet, a one-time occurrence will actually protect your teeth against excess decay.
Not all candy is created equal. While adults and children commonly disagree on the candy hierarchy (why do children love the weirdest powdery sugar concoctions?), experts have concluded some candy is better than others. While sweeter than the presidential debates, the debate surrounding the best candy is just as intense. Dentists agree solid chocolate that can quickly melt in your mouth is the optimal choice. While it is important to forgo fillings like caramel and nuts due to their consistency, peanut butter melts quickly and is a good way to add variety. The worst types of candy are those made completely of sugar, like candy corn. Sour candies are also on the worst offenders list since they raise the acidity of the mouth. These acids speed up tooth decay which can lead to cavities. Finally, try to avoid sticky candies like caramel or taffy that can easily get lodged in the grooves of your teeth and become a breeding ground for bacteria.
Hydration is key to the endurance you need when conquering the spoils of trick-or-treating. However, drinking water while eating the treats will also help to safeguard your teeth against acids produced by the sugar. The benefits of water are twofold: first, it helps to regulate the mouth’s pH level, and second, it washes the sugar off the teeth. While brushing and flossing should follow in short order, drinking water in the moment is an important precaution.
Finally, we are all weak. While hiding the candy in the cabinets above the oven may be enough of a deterrent for the little ones in the house, it may not be enough for candy-loving adults (raises hand guiltily). If grazing on sugar treats is too much to handle then get the candy out of the house. Some nonprofits will accept unopened candy to send to soldiers overseas. Donating the candy will make you and your waistline a little happier as we head into the holiday season. Don’t see this as a failure, there is a reason Reeses Peanut Butter Cups come in a two pack: one is never enough.
It may sound counterintuitive that you can have your Halloween candy and eat it too while maintaining good oral health. By drinking water and eating teeth-friendly treats you will have a happy and mouth-healthy Halloween!