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Posts for tag: trick or treat

By Dr. Bill Kuttler, DDS
October 30, 2016

Since Halloween is here and all of the stores are trying to encourage us to buy big bags of candy to hand out to all the trick or treaters, perhaps it is appropriate to discuss the idea of “good candy” and “bad candy”.  To put it more accurately, if not grammatically, “better candy” and “worse candy” because believe me, there is NO “good candy” even if some of it tastes that way....  There’s a reason that most witches and Jack O Lanterns are missing teeth...

Why am I such a killjoy on the subject of candy?  It’s estimated that the average person in the United States consumes about 130 pounds of sugar every year.  That adds up to over 1/3 pound per day per person.  If you put that into a pile of sugar cubes, it’s a pretty big pile!  And we all know that there is LOTS of sugar in candy.  So what? you might say.  Well, first, ignore dental health.  Our country is facing an epidemic of obesity – and lots of that excess fat is coming from sugar.  The number of kids who are overweight is skyrocketing, and unfortunately, habits that start when we’re kids often carry over into our adult lives.  Consider also the rapid increase in people who have diabetes and related health issues – there is strong evidence linking that increase to the increased consumption of sugar.

But since I’m a dentist, I’m not going to ignore dental health entirely.  Every time we consume sugar, acid is produced in our mouths, and it only takes about 20 seconds.  Then it remains in our mouths for about 30 MINUTES.  Since most candy is consumed between meals, and often at a fairly leisurely pace, that can account for a lot of HOURS of acid exposure in our mouths.  That’s what produces cavities.  While that may be good for my business, it most definitely isn’t good for anyone’s health!

Having made what I believe is a convincing case AGAINST sugar and candy, I’m also a realist.  I admit it, I eat sugar too, and I enjoy it.  I simply work at picking how much and when I choose to eat it.  There are definitely better and worse times and ways to consume it.

The best time to consume sugar (and believe me it is contained in an amazing number of foods and beverages – try reading the labels on everything you buy for a week) is with meals.  If that was the only time you had any sugar in your diet, you’d probably be consuming far less than the average person, AND you’d be doing far less damage to your body and your teeth!  So the “when” is fairly easy.  If you do slip in a “treat” between meals, consume it quickly – that will reduce the amount of time your mouth is exposed to it, so you’ll be reducing the amount of damage that is done to your teeth.

Now, I hope the title of this article kept you reading to this point.  So I’ll answer the question that you’ve probably been hoping for – what’s “good” candy?  First, eat candy that moves through your mouth quickly.  That means avoiding sticky items (sorry, but that means avoiding caramel apples!), or candy that is designed for you to suck on over a prolonged period.  Items that are tart stimulate saliva flow, and that helps to reduce the damage that the sugar causes.  Chocolate, some research has shown, is a good alternative.  There are some positive aspects to chocolate that help make up for the negatives.  That is especially true for dark chocolate – there’s actually some solid research that says dark chocolate is actually good for you (depending upon your other health concerns, of course).  When all else fails, choose moderation – I find that’s almost always a good decision....  

Oh, and please don’t forget to brush and clean between your teeth when you’re done eating – no matter what it is!  It’s a great habit to get into!

I think this must be a “trick” that Halloween is nearly here again. It seems like I was dressed up like a giant tooth only last week (I bet that is a scary picture for most of you)! But with the leaves turning color and falling off the trees, I guess fall has arrived, and Halloween is certainly a fun part of that.

Halloween, somewhat justifiably, has a reputation as the dentist’s least favorite holiday. (Although some of our clients tell me that I should love it based on their beliefs that it creates lots of dental problems for me to solve.) In reality, I’m not really “for” or “against” it. At our home we often hand out toothbrushes to trick or treaters as our subtle way of encouraging dental health, but I don’t believe that one day matters all that much in the big picture. (Or even one week or month, depending on how long people keep the treats around.)

I believe people’s dental health is built on a combination of genetics, “inheritance”, and habits. First, there is evidence that people inherit through the genes they receive from their parents a tendency toward dental health or dental problems – including tooth decay, gum disease, and crowded teeth. Second, we know that parents pass the bacteria that live in their mouths to their children, especially when they are infants. Therefore, if those parents have active dental problems due to the types of bacteria they have (and we know some “bugs” actively cause dental disease while others don’t seem to cause problems), their children are “inheriting” that tendency to have dental disease and that may actually be a bigger factor than genetics. (That’s why the healthier mom and dad are dentally, the more likely that their children will also have few problems.)

So, third, let’s focus on the habits that impact everyone’s dental health. We can summarize those in two general categories: self care and diet. And self care can be placed in three “boring” areas: brushing wherever the toothbrush can reach, cleaning between the teeth where a toothbrush can’t reach, and using fluoride to raise the resistance of teeth to cavities. I say it’s “boring” because none of this is new information.

The good news is that in the last few years there are some very cool gadgets on the market that help with the brushing and cleaning between teeth. They are fun to use, far easier to use than conventional brushing and flossing, and they are often far more effective as well. Ask your dentist or dental hygienist about them. Or, if you’d rather, call our office, and we can help with some suggestions. But please, don’t make this into the “trick” part of the season - ask BEFORE you purchase anything. Just as there are better and worse Halloween costumes, some of the clever looking dental gadgets are just that: clever looking. We want you to spend your loot wisely on something that works specifically for you! And often that takes some helpful coaching.

Clearly the category that is most relevant to Halloween is diet. Most treats given out at Halloween are actually “tricks”. They are high in sugar, often are also high in fat, and are almost always low in nutrition content. So staying away from them is desirable, BUT short term exposure isn’t likely to create dental problems. It would be ideal if those treats are eaten with meals because between meal snacks cause a larger problem than meals. And it would be great if they were consumed within a few days and anything left over was disposed of. Those two approaches, taken together, will eliminate any long term dental consequences. Even better, if these approaches are taken all year long, the trick and treat of Halloween will turn into a life-long TREAT for your mouth!

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

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.