The air’s become cool and crisp, pumpkins are appearing on porches everywhere, and costumes are being finalized. Halloween is almost here — hooray! Of course, what’s probably the best part of the holiday for your kids is the worst for their teeth. We’re talking, of course, about candy. And more candy. And even more candy.
Indeed, between school parties, trick-or-treating, and other events, the candy pile-up can get ridiculous. At some point, you have to find ways to pare down the stash. So which types of candy should you toss and which are okay to keep and enjoy (in moderation, of course)?
Plus, once you know the tooth friendliness of various sweets, you will be able to make better choices when purchasing candy to hand out. That’s doing a good thing for the dental health of all the kids in the neighborhood!
Candy to Avoid
These are the bad guys. The sweet treats that kids love, unfortunately, but that don’t love them back. That instead, wreak havoc upon their teeth. We recommend that children (and grown-ups) do not eat these types of goodies even in moderation.
Gummy candies. Gummy bears, gummy worms, Swedish fish, you get the idea. These treats may be fun and appealing, but they are difficult to remove completely from the surface of the teeth. They have a tendency to stick around. This promotes the growth of bacteria, which give off enamel-destroying acids and eventually form plaque and tartar.
The same goes for other gooey and sticky sweets like taffy and caramel. They get trapped in the grooves of the teeth and and provide nourishment for nasty microbes.
Sour candies are another treat that’s nothing but bad news for oral health. Here’s how it works. Tooth decay occurs when acids eat away at the enamel. Many of those acids are produced by bacteria — which is why it’s so important to practice good oral hygiene. But certain foods contain acids as well, and these acids do the same sort of damage as their microbe-generated counterparts. Any sort of sour candy will contain high levels of damaging acids (not to mention sugar).
Lollipops and hard candies do their damage in two ways. If you chew or crunch down on them, you risk chipping a tooth. If you suck on them, your saliva melts and mixes with the candy, creating a sugary liquid that coats the teeth and stays on them for a long time. The longer the exposure, them higher the likelihood of decay.
Popcorn balls: these old-fashioned treats may not be so common anymore, and perhaps that’s a good thing — at least as far as your teeth are concerned. The combination of sweet and sticky is a problem, plus popcorn is one of those foods notorious for getting stuck between the teeth.
Some people like to give out gummy snacks, fruit roll-ups, soft granola bars, and even boxes of raisins, thinking these are better for kids than candy. Well, that’s not the case. We’ve discussed the problem of sticky and gummy textures when combined with sugar, and the same issues apply here.
Better Halloween Treat Options
Now for the good news: what types of candy, when eaten responsibly in small amounts, will not destroy your dental health?
Chocolate. Oh yes, luscious, irresistible chocolate also happens to be one of the least-bad sweets for your teeth. Why? Chocolate tends to melt quickly and rinse away relatively easily. Dark chocolate is your best bet, as it contains less sugar than milk chocolate. There is even evidence that chocolate and cocoa beans contain certain compounds that strengthen tooth enamel and fight gum disease! (Though the sugar content in commercial chocolate would likely negate these positive effects.)
Sugarless gum is an excellent choice for a tooth-friendly Halloween. The act of chewing it stimulates saliva production. Saliva is your body’s way of keeping the mouth clean by rinsing away food particles and bacteria. Of course, the “sugarless” part is important. The sugar in regular gum makes it not-so-good for your teeth.
Chocolate with nuts is a great option for allergy-free kids. Nuts not only have beneficial vitamins and nutrients, but they help break up plaque on the teeth.
Follow this guide for buying trick-or-treat candy and for sorting your kids’ stashes, and everyone will have a safe and relatively tooth-friendly Halloween. And don’t forget your family’s twice-yearly checkups.