Healthier Handouts This Halloween

kids trick-or-treatingWe all know that candy and other sugary foods top the lists of those that lead to tooth decay. But sometimes it’s hard to balance the need to go easy on sugar with holiday traditions. As Halloween approaches, you might find yourself grabbing bags of candy to put on your front porch simply out of habit.

But why not expand the definition of “treats”?

Kids love treats. All treats – not just the sugary ones but also things like toys, fake tattoos, markers, and games.

Want to hear it straight from the source? According to a recent survey of over 1200 kids from Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, they have a lot of opinions on it.

Though most kids (60%) said parents should limit kids’ candy intake, plenty of kids (50%) said they did not have any limits. But more than 60% of kids said they voluntarily set their own limits. Why? To avoid getting fat, feeling sick, or getting cavities in their teeth.

In fact, only about 20% of kids say they eat all their Halloween candy. So why not consider treats that can be enjoyed beyond the holiday?

“I think people should give out fun markers/crayons, stickers, pencils, and anything else they think kids will like,” said Hannah, 11. “They should do this because it prevents kids (somewhat) from becoming overweight and it lasts longer than candy.”

And just how much sugar and fat do kids typically consume on Halloween? According to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta,

One pumpkin full of Halloween candy can have as much as 365 teaspoons of sugar; the same amount of sugar in 12 double scoop vanilla ice cream cones (which can be nearly 69 times the recommended daily serving of sugar for kids)…. In total this could total nearly 11,000 calories.

“Allowing your child to consume nearly 11,000 calories in Halloween candy is like standing by and watching them eat almost seven days’ worth of food in one sitting, or 21 meals based on 3 meals a day for a child,” said Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Medical Director, Strong4Life at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “There are so many fun things to do for Halloween that have nothing to do with candy. It should be about getting dressed up and going door to door, and family time.”

It’s also important to consider that many families and kids also can’t have the candy that gets handed out. Dairy and nut allergies make the night very challenging, as do family food restrictions, but houses handing out candy-free options are all-inclusive. Any kid can have these treats.

The Teal Pumpkin Project was created with these families in mind and has a ton of great resources including non-food treat suggestions and signs that you can post in your office cubicle or on the front of your house.

non-food Halloween treats

Been giving out non-food or other healthier treats for a while now? What do you hand out? How do the kids react? Share your experience and ideas in the comments!

Image by Belinda Hankins Miller

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We’re #45! The State of Our State’s Oral Health

Texas flag in shape of stateTexas does not come out looking good in the latest rankings on dental health.

According to a pair of reports recently released by WalletHub, Texas ranks near the bottom for

  • The lowest percentage of kids with excellent/very good teeth (#47).
  • The highest percentage of adults who visited a dentist in the past year (#46).
  • Highest percentage of adults with low life satisfaction due to an oral condition (#51 – dead last).

Overall, Texas ranked 45th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only Mississippi, Arkansas, Montana, Alabama, and West Virginia ranked worse. While our “Dental Habits and Care” rank is a middle-of-the-road 27, our state’s “Oral Health” rank is a miserable 47.

Suffice it to say, there’s room for improvement. (And in case you’re wondering, Minnesota was #1 in overall dental health.)

As we’ve noted before, good oral health habits start in youth. The foundation of healthy eating, proper hygiene, and regular dental visits should be laid early. Taking an active, preventive approach to your child’s oral health can mean fewer (and cheaper) dental visits for their lifetime.

Kids who grow up with dental neglect as the norm often become those adults who shun the dentist.

In some cases, it’s because it’s just not something they do, but in other cases, anxiety may be at the root of it. Sometimes the fear is of finding out about problems caused by years of neglect and the cost of addressing them. Sometimes, a bad dental experience can grow into dental fear. Others struggle with their response to particular sounds, smells, or sensations experienced during treatment.

Whatever the cause, there are ways to get the better of that fear – from herbal remedies (e.g., valerian root) to listening to relaxing music through headphones to sedation dentistry.

The most important thing? Let your dentist, hygienists, and assistants know about your apprehensions. We want to do everything we can to help make their visits as relaxing, gentle, and pleasant as possible.

For good oral health is essential to your quality of life. Low life satisfaction can result when oral problems make it hard to eat and chew, for instance, or embarrassment over the state of your teeth. According to the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute, “More than one out of three low-income adults say they avoid smiling and 17 percent report difficulty doing usual activities because of the condition of their mouth and teeth.”

Indeed, oral health is, as the title of a study last year in the Journals of Gerontology put it, a “neglected aspect of subjective well-being.”

A deterioration in oral health and oral health–related quality of life increases the risk of depressive symptoms among older adults and highlights the importance of oral health as a determinant of subjective well-being in later life.

In the end, it’s important to remember that dental healthcare doesn’t need to be scary and can be a solution to increasing overall life satisfaction. Talk with your dentist about options that may be available to help you get through any concerns you and your family have.

While it might cause temporary stress and anxiety, remember that regular visits for cleaning and check-ups, partnered with healthy lifestyle and dental habits like avoiding processed foods and brushing and flossing daily, can save you a lot of stress in the long run – both emotional and financial.

Image by AnonMoos based on image by Darwinek

A Look Back at…A More Comprehensive Approach to Prevention

Updated from the original post for October 9, 2014

young girl smilingA 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control shows that less than half of all children in the US are getting “preventive dental services” – particularly older teens and the very young. “In 2009,” reported Dr. Bicuspid,

more than half (56%) of children and adolescents did not visit the dentist in the past year, and nearly 9 of 10 (86%) children and adolescents did not receive a dental sealant or a topical fluoride application in the past year.

Dental visits, fluoride and sealants? That’s a pretty narrow definition of “prevention.”

Fluoride’s benefit is arguable, especially in light of its risks and, where there’s fluoridation, the ease with which you can overdo it.

Sure, regular dental visits are important, but getting your child’s teeth professionally checked and scrubbed once every 6 months isn’t enough to override poor diet, oral hygiene and other factors.

Absolutely, sealants can be helpful in preventing cavities in deep grooves and crevices, but they, too, are only a partial solution.

Effective prevention happens mostly outside the dental office. As one physician put it in his keynote address at the 2014 Oral Health Conference in Alabama,

“Prevention is the word….” [A]nd it shouldn’t fall to just the dentists and dental hygienists. Other health care professionals, including nurses, physician assistants and pediatricians, can be part of prevention interventions; so too can daycare workers, teachers and Head Start personnel.

But most of it happens with you. At home. Above all, it takes a daily commitment to making healthful choices.

There’s so much you can do to prevent cavities and other oral health problems – for yourself and by teaching your children healthy habits.. Here’s a quick list:

  • Eat well. It’s no secret that eating too many sugars and refined carbohydrates – the stuff that so many hyper-processed foods is made of – raises your risk of cavities and periodontal disease. The World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10% of your daily calories – about 50 grams – come from sugar. But to prevent tooth decay, new research suggests a 3% max.
  • Brush and floss regularly, making sure you clean every surface.
  • Relax. Stress makes us more prone to disease and dysfunction of all kinds. Make sure you take some time to relax each day, whether it’s doing yoga, writing in a journal, or chilling to your favorite music.
  • Avoid drugs – all kinds, including tobacco. Tobacco has an especially pernicious effect on the mouth, contributing to gum disease and, ultimately, tooth loss.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep rejuvenates your body and replenishes your energy levels. Without enough sleep, your body can’t do everything that it needs to do to keep you healthy.
  • Exercise. Just as a car won’t run well if it’s not used, so, too, your body. We were designed to move! (And yes, we’ve seen those headlines insisting that exercise is bad for your teeth, but the vast majority of people don’t exercise enough to experience the problems that some elite athletes do.)

All these suggestions should sound familiar. They’re the stuff that promotes a healthy mind, spirit, body and mouth. (The mouth is connected to the rest of you, after all!) Whenever you take these steps, you are committing to yourself. Your body will reward your for smart choices.

Image by suzi quiban