Trick or Treat? Your Choice!
By Bill Kuttler, DDS
October 26, 2013

The “magic” night is almost here, and if you are not an actual ghost or goblin, you know that Halloween is THE night for children to be on the prowl for treats — mostly high sugar ones! And that means that parents and grandparents need to be ready to deal with the onslaught of candy and hyper kids.

Are there dental consequences? Absolutely! Are they gigantic? Probably not IF there are some steps taken to minimize the issues. First (and this isn’t a news flash) sugar isn’t good for us — not for our dental health and not for our total health. Keeping sugar usage minimal and raising kids to like fresh fruits and vegetables is key.

But Halloween will arrive, and the kids will come home with bags of goodies. I know some parents who take it and parcel it out over the next several days or weeks. I know others that let their children eat all they want for a day or two and then get rid of the rest. (I even know some parents who’ve been known to “save” their kids from all that candy by eating it themselves!)

While I understand the logic of both approaches, the latter one is actually better from a dental perspective. Exposure time to sugar (even one bite!) is the main issue to the potential of cavities developing. Every time someone consumes sugar or other carbohydrates, the sugars provide enough nutrition to the bacteria to keep them generating acid for at least a half hour. If the substance is retentive (sticky), it stays in the mouth longer, and the acid exposure time is also lengthened.

If people eat all the candy they want for a day or two, the exposure time totals a couple of days. They are also hopefully sick of it by then. If the candy is parceled out over days or weeks, the exposure time is very likely to be greater. It’s also more likely to create a habit where the person wants and expects candy each day. (Please note that I’m not addressing the impact that amount of sugar has on the child’s systemic health which is also NOT positive!)

The accompanying graphic says much of this better than I can. Candy, baked goods, and pop produce problems. But if anyone is going to consume it, there are things that can be done to mitigate the damages. Eating candy with meals at least restricts the exposure times. Have it for dessert! Brushing and flossing after consuming sugar also reduces the exposure times since it eliminates things sticking around. Using fluoride toothpastes will help remineralize the tooth structure that has been demineralized by the acids produced by the bacteria.

So, what’s the bottom line? I believe “moderation in all things” and “timing is everything” are good mottos to live by. As a dentist I’m just glad that Halloween only comes once a year! We’ll be giving out toothbrushes at our house….

This article originally appeared in Dubuque 365ink magazine. It is republished here with permission from the publication.

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