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



The “Essentials” for a Healthy Smile?

Soon, little ghouls, witches, and werewolves will go door-to-door asking for treats – and parents will deal with the trick of managing their sugary haul. So maybe it’s appropriate that October is also National Dental Hygiene Month.

To that end, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association has put forth their four “essentials” in fighting tooth decay:

  1. Brush twice a day.
  2. Floss daily.
  3. Rinse with mouthwash.
  4. Chew sugar-free gum.

That last point might only surprise you until you learn that Wrigley – of gum fame – is a sponsor of the event. But is that enough to make chewing gum “essential” to good oral health? Will it be somehow less than it could be were you to forego the gum?

While there is some evidence that chewing sugar-free gum may remove and even kill bacteria in the mouth, even the lead author of the study demonstrating that stated that it’s still no replacement for brushing and flossing.

Similarly, while research has shown that artificial sweeteners such as xylitol and erythritol may help prevent decay, there’s been at least some suggestion that it’s the action of chewing itself that’s really responsible, in so far as it generates more saliva. Among other things, saliva helps neutralize acids, washes the teeth, clears bacteria, and aids remineralization.

Again, sugar-free gum is no replacement for the brushing and flossing and healthful eating that are the foundation for good oral health. But in most cases, it can be a fine support for it. (The one case in which we recommend no gum chewing at all: if you have “silver” amalgam fillings. All the extra chewing means extra release of mercury from those fillings.)

And it’s a great alternative to candy for Halloween trick-or-treaters.

Happy National Dental Hygiene Month and Halloween (a little bit early) from Pride Dental!


How to Help Your Child’s Teeth Survive Halloween

fake_teethAny kid will tell you that a Halloween costume isn’t really, really scary unless it includes some gnarly, gnarly teeth. From top-of-the-line, glow-in-the-dark vampire fangs to twisted, stained and sparse “hillbilly” teeth and everything in between and beyond, fake teeth can make or break a spooky Halloween costume.

No one, of course, would like their child’s real teeth to look like that.

Yet here we are at the time of year when bucketfuls of Halloween candy can make the risks of developing a frightful smile go way up. Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent this.

Sugars & Acids & Cavities, Oh My!

Strictly speaking – and despite what we all hear growing up – sugar alone does not cause cavities. What it does do is feed the oral microbes that form the biofilm known as plaque. The waste products generated by those microbes are highly acidic, and highly acidic is damaging to teeth.

But wait! There’s more!

Not only do you have the acidic conditions created by oral bacteria. Many sweets are highly acidic, as well – sour gummies and other tart candies being among the worst offenders.

Sugars + acids = a real one-two punch. (This is why soda pop is so notoriously bad for teeth, as well.)

So just have your child brush right after gorging on their trick-or-treat haul and all shall be well, right?

Not exactly.

While saliva will eventually neutralize the acid conditions that come with eating sweets – all manner of fermentable carbohydrates, in fact – it takes a while for that to occur. Brushing before then can actually be more damaging, effectively brushing acids into the teeth.

Here’s how one dentist explained it to the Wall Street Journal:

When you want to make etched glass, you apply an acid or an abrasive and scratch it — that is what happens if you drink a sports drink or a soda, or even wine, and brush right after.

Or after eating a lot of candy.

The solution? Have your child wait 20 to 30 minutes between feasting on candy and brushing their teeth. And don’t forget the floss! (Brushing alone cleans only about 60% of tooth surfaces.)

More tips for managing the Halloween candy haul:

  • Have your children pick through their Halloween treats and decide which ones they really want to eat. Keep those and get rid of the rest – or replace them with a healthier alternative that you know your kids like.
  • Limit tart and sour candies, as well as sticky, chewy candies that easily cling to – and between – teeth, such as taffy and caramel.
  • Don’t let your children graze on candy through the day. Instead, let them eat a certain amount of your choosing at a particular time. (After a meal is ideal.)
  • Offer water to drink after eating sweets or even some sugarless gum to help stimulate saliva flow that will help neutralize acids and clean the teeth.

Also keep in mind that, when it comes to handing out treats at your door, sugar isn’t the only possible giveaway. In fact, about half of kids say they’d welcome something different.

“YES!!!! YEEEESSSS!!! I DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH I CAN ENFORCE THIS, YES!!!!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE that other stuff.” – tween girl

jackolanternSome parents, for instance, hand out small trinkets, such as Halloween pencils, yo-yos or fake tattoos. Others opt to give more wholesome foods, like packaged trail mix, seeds or nuts, pretzels or low-sugar granola bars. Wax teeth or lips and sugar-free gum and candies can be good alternatives, as well.

Better yet, get your kids involved in the choice! Ask what non-candy items they’d be happy to see in their goodie bag this year. Chances are, plenty of other kids will be happy with it, as well.

More tips for parents from…

Images by Mauren Veras & Paul Dunleavy, via Flickr