5 Tricks to Prevent Treats from Becoming Cavities This Halloween

This post is sponsored by Penz Dental Care

I’m a Dentist and I let my kids eat candy.

It’s Halloween—time for pumpkin spiced everything, cute kids in costumes, and of course, trick-or-treating for bags FULL of candy.

I am a father of three young children. My three-year-old is excited about dressing up, trick-or-treating, and the candy she’ll get in her pumpkin bucket. I am also a dentist. I want to make sure my children’s (and my patients’) teeth stay healthy, but I don’t want my kids to miss out on the fun…and I don’t think they have to.

I’d like to share with you my 5 tips for keeping your children’s teeth healthy this Halloween:

Eat candy in one sitting, rather than constantly snacking on it throughout the day.

The sugar in candy combines with oral bacteria to produce acid. That acid dissolves tooth enamel, which results in cavities (no fun for anyone!). If kids are snacking on candy all day, their teeth are much more likely to develop cavities than if the candy is eaten in one sitting followed by brushing to remove sugar.

Don’t eat candy right before bed.

Our saliva flow decreases while we sleep. If sugar remains on the teeth at night, teeth are more susceptible to decay because the saliva will not buffer the acid that is produced by the sugar and bacteria. Actually, it’s best to eat candy following a meal rather than as a separate snack. Chewing during a meal produces more saliva, which helps wash away the sugar from the teeth.

Go for the chocolate.

Chewy, sour, and hard candies are the worst for our teeth. Chewy candies stick to teeth. Sour candies contain both sugar and acid, a double threat! And hard candies take longer to dissolve, leaving the teeth exposed to sugar for longer periods of time. If your children are in braces, they are going to be better off avoiding sticky candy altogether. Chocolate is among the least harmful because it washes off our teeth more easily. Is this the first time you’ve heard a dentist recommend chocolate? I say go for it! (…but brush your teeth after!)

Practice good oral hygiene on Halloween and every day.

  • The American Dental Association recommends brushing for two minutes twice per day, with a fluoride toothpaste. A small amount of toothpaste or a “smear” is adequate for children under three years old and a pea-sized dollop should be used for children three to six years old. You should choose a toothbrush with soft bristles that allows them to reach all areas of their mouth (make sure it’s not too big) and replace it every three months. Also, flossing can begin daily once your child has any teeth that are touching.
  • Parents should help or watch over the children’s tooth brushing abilities until they are at least eight years old (American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry). When checking for completeness, look along the gum line for plaque—a white, sticky film of cavity-causing bacteria. Make sure it’s removed with each brushing.
  • Take your children in for regular check-ups, professional cleanings, and fluoride treatments. A child’s first visit to the dentist should be within six months of the appearance the first tooth or by the first birthday. I often hear people say, “It’s just a baby tooth. She doesn’t really need it, right?” Wrong! If baby teeth are not taken care of, they can become infected and cause pain, and early loss of baby teeth can lead to problems with spacing as the child’s permanent teeth come in.
  • Make brushing fun! Let your child pick a toothbrush and flavor of toothpaste. Is your child into princesses? Tell them that brushing gives them “princess sparkles.” Count the teeth as you brush. Play music (check out the Brush DJ app! It works as a timer by playing two minutes of music). Give your child a toothbrush to clean a stuffed animal’s teeth while you brush theirs. Parents of young children know that making things fun and silly leads to greater success!

As a dentist, it’s difficult to see kids suffering from tooth pain or decay. It’s up to us as parents and caregivers to take responsibility to keep our children’s teeth clean. You would not put your child in the car without a car seat. At the same time, you shouldn’t put your child to bed without adequately brushing his or her teeth. Establishing a good routine early in the child’s life will set them up for success as their adult teeth start to come in.

My recommendation for Halloween? Remember “everything in moderation.” Don’t make a candy spree part of your daily routine. My kids are allowed to have candy on special occasions because I know that we’re working together to take care of their teeth throughout the year. Keep the above tricks in mind for Halloween, keep brushing and flossing, bring them in for check-ups, and you’ll be on the right track all year round.

Dr. Matt Penz is the owner and general dentist at Penz Dental Care in Rochester. He’s a proud Mayo High School graduate (Go Spartans!) and St. Olaf College alumnus (Um Ya Ya!). He enjoys spending time with his wife, Kate, and two daughters, Sophie and Lucy.

This post was originally published in 2017


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