It’s that time of year again. Pumpkins everywhere, kids thinking about their costumes, grocery store shelves filling up with Halloween displays and economy-sized bags of candy.
“Healthy” and “Halloween” may seem like two words that just don’t go together. After all, what is Halloween (and the weeks leading up to it) but a time of parties and overindulging on sweets?
Here’s the thing: your kids (and you) can have your share of candy without going overboard. That may seem crazy, considering how much candy they collect via trick-or-treating and other parties. But by culling the stash and knowing which types of candy should be off limits and which are okay in moderation, you can help your kids have a memorable Halloween without sacrificing their oral health.
Is All Candy Bad?
The short answer: no. (Phew!) But when you walk past the Halloween displays at Albertson’s or Target, how do you know which treats to ignore and which to throw in the cart without worry? Here are a few guidelines:
Pass up anything gummy, sticky, stretchy, or gooey. The problem here isn’t the sugar per se. Rather, it’s the texture, which causes the candy to stick to all the crevices and grooves of the teeth. And there it stays. The sugar becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, which produce harmful acids, which go to work eating away at the tooth enamel. Popular offenders include jelly beans, candy corn, gummy worms, taffy-like candies, and caramel. Also avoid fruit leather, chewy granola bars, and even raisins.
Say no to sour candies. For whatever reason, kids love candy that makes them pucker. But in addition to sugar, these confections contain high levels of acid. We’ve discussed what bacteria-produced acids do to your teeth. Well, the acid levels in sour candy do the same thing — and they get a head start! Sour gummy candies are an especially nefarious treat.
Lollipops may evoke feelings of innocence and nostalgia, but there is nothing innocent about how they affect your oral health. This applies to all types of hard candies. When you suck on them, the dissolved sugar forms a solution with your saliva. This coats your mouth, creating lots of food for bacteria and bringing on tooth decay. If you crunch on hard candy, you could end up breaking a tooth. No piece of candy is worth a dental emergency!
So you know what’s out. What treats are better options?
Go for the chocolate. Seriously. Even though it contains sugar, chocolate melts easily and is less likely to remain behind on the teeth. This means nasty bacteria don’t have time to gain a foothold.
The darker the better, as dark chocolate tends to be made with less sugar than milk chocolate. Avoid, of course, any chocolate treats with chewy or sticky elements like caramel. Chocolate with nuts is an excellent treat (for kids without allergies or braces, of course) as the nuts contain extra nutrients and their texture is good for teeth.
While the sugar may offset the benefits to some extent, recent research shows that chocolate may actually contain compounds beneficial to oral health. One is believed to strengthen tooth enamel (even better than fluoride), and one appears to have antibacterial properties that help your gums battle periodontal disease. How awesome is that?
Another excellent dentist-approved Halloween treat is sugarless gum. While not a replacement for good oral hygiene, sugarless gum promotes saliva production and helps keep the mouth clean.
October 31st has arrived. Your kids are dressed up and raring to go. What strategies can you employ to ensure they don’t overindulge on the sweet treats?
- Serve a hearty meal before your kids head out the door. Serve something they love. If their stomachs are full, they won’t have room to fill up on candy.
- Put away the juice, at least for tonight, and make sure they drink plenty of water. Tap water is best, as it contains enamel-strengthening fluoride.
- When your kids come home with their loot, go through it with them and remove the worst candy. “Buy” it from them if necessary. Of the remaining candy, let them choose a couple pieces to eat right away, and put away the rest for another time.
- Tonight of all nights, don’t let brushing and flossing fall through the cracks!