Here comes Halloween with all of its scary, sticky, sweet fun! Children look forward to bringing home a bag full of candy and devouring a good bit of it right away. Parents worry about their children’s dental health, and want to limit the sugar intake. But, Halloween doesn’t have to be a battle between sugar and teeth. It is actually a great opportunity to teach and reinforce good oral health habits for life, without depriving children of the treats and fun.
The Scary Truth about Halloween Candy
Each year, Americans spend close to $9 billion on candy and much of that money is spent in October. Candy has long been known to contribute to tooth decay. Naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth feed on the sugar in candy (and other foods) and turn it into acid. This acid attacks tooth enamel and causes decay. Prolonged exposure to sugar can wreak the most havoc. When children chew sticky candies such as caramels or taffy, candy gets stuck on the surface and in between crevices of the teeth. The longer the sugar is stuck to the teeth, the more time the bacteria have to feed on the candy and produce acid. The more acid is produced and the longer the amount of time the teeth are exposed to it, the more chance your child has of developing cavities.
Don’t Make Children Choose Between Candy and Cavities
You may be tempted to disallow candy altogether during Halloween. But, the Halloween experience is one that should not be about deprivation, but more about moderation. Depriving your children of candy makes it seem even more irresistible, leading to other problems later. They may end up sneaking sweets or bingeing once they’re out on their own. Instead, let them have the joy of Halloween by going to a party or trick-or-treating and then helping them learn to enjoy that candy in moderation.
Decide Together How Much Candy They Can Eat
After your children come home, go through their bags of Halloween candy together. Decide on a good number of treats they should keep. You can base this number on their age, size and other factors. Then, using that number, let them pick the treats they want the most. Immediately remove the candy they did not choose. Encourage your child to avoid choosing the hard, sour or chewy candies like jawbreakers or caramels. These candies have high acidity and/or stick to the teeth longer, which can cause more damage.
There are all kinds of things you can do with the extra candy, including donating it to a food bank, freezing it for later, or taking it to the office. Letting children help decide what is a reasonable amount of candy to keep has benefits beyond good oral health. The message isn’t that “all candy is bad,” but that too much sugar can lead to tooth decay. This also helps children learn to control their diets.
Set a Designated “Treat Time”
Whether it’s after school or after dinner, set a time during which your child can enjoy a treat or two from their Halloween stash. The ritual of having a designated treat time can help reinforce the idea of moderation, and can keep them from obsessing over eating candy at other times during the day.
Teach About Oral Health
It’s important to teach your children that candy isn’t the only thing that can lead to cavities. Starchy snacks, fruit juices and other foods that have excess sugar and/or stay in the mouth longer can also be cavity culprits. Good oral health habits can help them keep their mouth healthy and avoid cavities. It’s crucial to brush and floss regularly, especially after eating sugary foods. Using a pediatric fluoride mouth rinse can also help them prevent tooth decay.
Help children brush their teeth until they are at least 7 or 8 years old. Even after age 8, you should still supervise teeth brushing. Children should brush their teeth at least twice per day — once in the morning and once before bed. They should also floss once per day. Seeing a dentist twice per year for a cleaning and check-up will also help keep their mouths as healthy as possible.
Lead by Example
Be sure to practice excellent oral health habits yourself and consider giving out healthier Halloween treats to the trick-or-treaters who haunt your doorstep this year. There are many options for healthy Halloween treats such as cereal bars, pretzels, popcorn or granola bars. Even a plain chocolate bar is a better option than sour, chewy or hard candies. Other ideas include money, small toys, school supplies, trading cards, lottery tickets and more.
Halloween is a perfect opportunity to teach your children about oral health. Be sure to continue to foster their development of healthy dental hygiene habits throughout the year.
Good oral health is a major contributor to overall health, so developing these habits now will help ensure a long and healthy life for both you and your children.