It’s that time of year again when kids, both big and small, are looking forward to an extra little sweet treat for Halloween. The saying usually goes, “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips”, but in this case, “A little Halloween treat, means a visit to the dentist’s seat”. So, what can we do to prevent a visit to the dentist, and what are the best and worst types of candies to enjoy during Halloween?
According to the Centers for Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics, almost 19% of children aged 5-19, and almost 32% of adults aged 20-44 are living with untreated dental cavities. According to a study by the American Dental Association, Americans spent over $113 Billion dollars on dental care in 2014. Dental cavities, or “caries”, continue to be a major health problem for the United States. Dental caries are a bacterial infection of a tooth where the enamel is destroyed, thereby creating a “cavity”. Bacteria in our mouths feed on any type of sugar, or starch, left behind after we eat. In fact, bacteria can continue to “snack” on sugar for more than 20 minutes after we are done eating. The byproduct of bacterial metabolism is acid, and it is that acid that demineralizes (softens) and destroys our tooth enamel. Eventually, as bacteria colonize the small cavity, they will continue to produce acid which damages the inner layer of the tooth known as dentin, and can eventually reach the nerve, leading to root canal or tooth loss. The best way to prevent tooth decay is to make sure we keep good hygiene, brushing at least twice a day, with a fluoride toothpaste. Keeping a low sugar, low carb diet is also a wonderful way to help prevent tooth decay. If bacteria don’t have the sugar to snack on, they can’t cause us cavities… Simple, right?
Well, what about Halloween?
The best choice would be to enjoy candy that is sweetened using stevia or xylitol. Stevia is a sweetener derived from a plant, and it has no carbohydrates or calories. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, which is not fermentable by bacteria, and therefore cannot be used by them for energy. Since neither substance can be used by bacteria, it is impossible for bacteria to produce acid that damages teeth. Sometimes, as in the case of xylitol, artificial sweeteners can actually inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause cavities. Chewing gum with xylitol also helps stimulate salivary glands to produce more saliva, and saliva buffers the acidic pH of bacteria. The buffering of acid by saliva blocks the acid created by bacteria from damaging teeth. There are many choices of gums, hard candies, and chocolates made with stevia or xylitol that can be found on the internet, health food stores, and even in your local supermarkets.
If you are going to indulge in “traditional” candy that is sweetened with sugars, try to stay away from anything that is very sticky or chewy. Any candy that is made with caramel, nougat, raisins, or other dried fruits, tends to be very sticky, and will remain on and in between your teeth for an extended period of time. Gummy bears, gummy worms, jelly beans, and other candies with a similar texture will also tend to stick to teeth, even resisting attempts to remove them with a toothbrush. As noted above, bacteria will continue to use sugars in our mouths and create acid for up to 20 minutes, so it can mean that your teeth will be under hours of acidic attack after a Halloween candy binge.
Your best choice if indulging in Halloween candy is to stick with plain chocolate bars. If you need a little crunch, or something else in your chocolate, a bar with things such as crispy rice or peanuts is ok. The benefit of eating a plain chocolate bar is that the chocolate will very quickly melt in your mouth and will not stick to your teeth. The quickness in which chocolate is gone from your mouth works in your favor, because it shortens the amount of time the bacteria get to produce cavity causing acids.
No matter what candy you choose to enjoy on Halloween, the best thing you can do for your teeth is to brush and floss after eating your sugary snack. If you can’t brush, then at the very least try to rinse with plain water to help wash away the sugar that is left behind. Use common sense, eat candy in moderation, and then maybe, “A little Halloween treat, MIGHT NOT MEAN a visit to the dentist’s seat”.
Dr. Edward Alvarez is a Cosmetic and Reconstructive Dentist and Certified Acupuncturist in New York City.
Dr. Alvarez serves as a Police Surgeon for the New York State Troopers PBA and Amtrak Police Department FOP.
Dr. Alvarez is a fellow of the World Clinical Laser Institute, a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry, and a member of MENSA.