By Thomas Hall, DMD and Sara Rauen Dardis, DDS, Pediatric Smiles of Bloomington
The primary reason for tooth decay is gobbling up too much sugar. Bacteria in the mouth uses sugar to grow, multiply, and produce acids. The acids then begin to eat away at the tooth’s enamel (the hard, outer surface) and — voila! — a cavity forms. The Halloween candy-fest is just around the corner — a scary thought for anyone concerned about children’s teeth — but there are actually some types of candy that are much better than others when it comes to dental health. While the “best” candy is having no candy at all, we know that kids (and adults) are going to eat some candy, but there are steps you can take to minimize the damage to teeth.
First off, avoid candy that is hard, sticky, or sour.
- Hard candy, like suckers or lifesavers, stay in the mouth for a long time, which is like giving your teeth a nice long soak in an enamel-destroying sugar bath! The faster candy leaves your mouth, the less damage it can do.
- Sticky types of candy like taffy, tootsie rolls, gummy worms, and “fruit” snacks, cling to the teeth and are difficult to brush or rinse away. Sticky candy can also cause problems with fillings or crowns.
- Dried fruit like raisins and fruit roll-ups are just as bad as candy when it comes to tooth decay. While they may have more nutritional value, they have high amounts of sugar and, like sticky candy, they linger in the cracks and crevices and don’t rinse or brush away very easily.
- Most people think that sour candy is not as bad because it isn’t as sweet. But, sour candy is extremely acidic — almost as bad as battery acid — and can weaken and dissolve tooth enamel very quickly. Sour candy such as Lemon Heads, Sour Patch Kids, Sour Skittles, Warheads, Now & Later, and Sour Gummy Bears are very popular among kids. Many types are not only sour, but hard and sticky as well, making them the absolute worst substance to come in contact with teeth.
Better candy choices are chocolate — especially dark chocolate — candy bars with nuts, and sugar-free gum sweetened with Xylitol.
- Chocolate melts away very quickly and is easy to brush or rinse off. Dark chocolate contains calcium and relatively little sugar. Furthermore, dark chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which have compounds that help harden enamel and fight bacteria and plaque.
- Chewing gum increases saliva production, which serves to “rinse” bacteria from the teeth. Xylitol is actually beneficial for teeth! It is a natural sweetener that neutralizes the acid-producing bacteria and prevents bacteria from sticking to the teeth.
- Nuts in a candy bar tend to interrupt the stickiness, so the sugar doesn’t hang around for as long, making them not quite so bad. Candy bars made with smaller nuts serve to scrub away some of the sugar that might otherwise stick to the teeth.
Here are a few other tips to help kids enjoy their spooky stash of sweets without turning their mouth into a dental nightmare.
- Eat candy right after a meal instead of snacking on it throughout the day. This reduces the amount of time that sugar is in contact with teeth. In addition, the saliva produced during a meal helps to mitigate the acid-producing bacteria.
- Do not suck or chew candy — especially sour candy — for long periods of time.
- Do not brush teeth right away after eating candy as this increases the harmful effects of acid. Instead, chew sugarless gum that contains Xylitol, rinse with water or milk, and wait an hour before brushing teeth.
- Consider trading candy for non-food goodies like pennies, stickers, party favors, etc.
Candy can certainly be part of Halloween fun without posing a risk to a happy, healthy smile. Use common sense and limit the amount and frequency of eating candy, take extra care to floss and brush twice a day, and see your dentist every six months to “treat” small problems before they become big ones.
Pediatric Smiles of Bloomington is a specialized dental office for children 0 to 18 and special-needs patients. They are located at 1112 Trinity Ln. in Bloomington and may be reached at 309-663-7339. Ask about their “No-Cavity Club” and the rewards kids may earn.