According to a September 2016 survey from the National Retail Federation, Americans plan to spend $2.5 billion on Halloween candy this year. While dressing up in costumes and trick-or-treating around the neighborhood can bring fun for the entire family, it’s also an important time of year to talk about the damage those sweets can cause to teeth over time.
In addition to following the tips below for a happy and healthy Halloween, we encourage families to participate in National Brush Day on Nov. 1 and commit to brushing teeth for two minutes twice a day along with other healthy dental practices.
1. Steer clear of chewy candies : Caramel, gummies or chewy sweets like fruit snacks are among the most harmful Halloween treats for oral health. These types of candies are particularly dangerous because they can smear and become lodged in between teeth and stick to teeth’s deeper grooves. When this happens, it’s harder for saliva and the tongue to naturally clear away the sugary residue, which can lead to cavities. Cavities begin to form when certain bacteria in our mouths have the opportunity to feed on sugar that’s left behind on our teeth. This interaction creates acid and can lead to tooth decay.
2. Beware of hard candies that can cause breakage: Around Halloween, dentists also commonly see a spike in broken teeth caused by biting into hard candies, such as lollipops and jawbreakers. These types of candies are almost as hard as children’s teeth and when bitten into can cause or worsen existing tooth sensitives.
3. Treat yourself to (dark) chocolate: Dark chocolate, a favorite for many parents to keep around the home, is rich in antioxidants and serves as a great substitute for other Halloween treats. Parents should also consider replacing sticky, chewy treats with items such as crackers and pretzels or small toys.
4. An apple a day may help keep the dentist away: Because avoiding all sweets isn’t likely, eating an apple after enjoying Halloween candy can also reduce the risk of developing cavities. Apples are considered “nature’s toothbrush” and snacking on the fibrous fruit can help to quickly whisk away cavity-causing debris from teeth when a toothbrush is out of reach.
5. Make brushing a family activity:Oftentimes children want to start brushing their teeth on their own around ages 4 or 5. However, it isn’t until ages 7 or 8 that they usually develop the right technique. On occasions like Halloween when a child might have consumed larger amounts of candy, parents should help with brushing. Use small, circular motions to reach the gums, as brushing in a straight line can just push debris from one tooth to the next. And, don’t forget the tongue, which harbors food and germs.
6. Go on an adventure or sing a song: It can be challenging to keep children interested in brushing their teeth for the recommended two minutes. Try turning teeth brushing into an imaginative safari adventure—such as searching for an alligator or lion behind teeth. Singing a familiar song twice, such as “Happy Birthday,” also helps children stay focused on brushing for the recommended time.
7. Connect dental hygiene with whole-body health:While parents commonly remind their children to wash their hands before eating or after playing outside, there is frequently a disconnect with including the mouth—and the germs it harbors—as a contributor to overall health. Just like covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough is important to stop the spread of germs, so is keeping your teeth, tongue and gums free of harmful bacteria. All parts of the body are connected and play a role in improving health.
Jonelle Grant Anamelechi, DDS, MSPH, is a board-certified pediatric dentist and attending faculty member at Children’s National Health System and owner of Children’s Choice Pediatric Dentistry. She also serves as the immediate past president of the D.C. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, D.C. Dentaquest Foundation Representative and board member for the Maryland Dental Action Coalition. She is a graduate of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and the University of North Carolina Schools of Dentistry and Public Health in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is also a graduate of St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center Pediatric Dental Residency Program in Paterson, New Jersey.