FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Dr. Jennifer Epstein swears that candy is not her enemy. Though she sees the damage it can do as a dentist with Kids First Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics in Fairfield, she recognizes that treats can be fine in moderation on special occasions like Halloween.
“No one ever got cavities because they ate candy one day,” Epstein said. “But a good rule of thumb is to try to minimize exposure risk and exposure time — the type of candy and the amount of time it spends in your mouth.”
The average American consumes 180 pounds of sugar and 24.7 pounds of candy per year, U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics that bring us right to Halloween. For most children, this means gobs of Gobstoppers that will keep them sugared up till the spring thaw. But for parents, Oct. 31 means a grab bag of health challenges.
The American Dental Association has suggestions for parents so their kids can maintain good oral health despite Halloween and throughout the year. We also asked Epstein to offer some advice of her own.
Halloween candy — and other sugary foods — should be consumed with meals, because saliva production increases while eating. This helps neutralize acids produced by bacteria in the mouth and helps rinse away food particles. Epstein says it also helps to let your kids have their daily candy in one sitting, rather than let them “graze” throughout the day.
“If you’re keeping your exposures all within the same time frame, you’re going to minimize your risk,” Epstein says. “For instance, someone who has a sucker in their mouth for three hours is going to be at a higher risk than someone who has their lunch, eats the little candy they’re allotted and is done.”
Hard candy and lollipops should be avoided. If kids choose to bite or chew on them, they could chip teeth or damage orthodontic work. If they suck on them for long periods of time instead, they can cause problems too. The length of time food remains in the mouth is the issue here, Epstein says. Unless it is sugar-free, hard candy subjects teeth to prolonged acid attack, which increases risk for tooth decay.
Sticky candies that cling to the teeth — including taffy, gummy bears, nougats and caramels — can cause problems as well. These confections take longer to get washed away by saliva and increase the risk for tooth decay. Pure milk chocolate, which washes away much more easily, is a better alternative for a treat.
Another thing Epstein and her colleagues tell parents is to make sure Halloween candy stores don’t last too long. One method is to give kids a limit of a few days to chow down before they have to throw out or donate the rest.
“It’s best to just give a finite amount of time that you’re going to allow your child to go through this candy, and then throw the rest away,” Epstein says.