Any 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?
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
Some 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.
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Images by Mauren Veras & Paul Dunleavy, via Flickr