From toddlers to teenagers — and, let’s be honest, adults, too — a candy haul is Halloween’s main draw. Yet it goes without saying that a bucketful of chocolate, gummies, lollipops, and hard candy isn’t the most teeth-healthy scenario. All that candy brings out the sugar bugs on teeth that can cause cavities and affect an otherwise healthy grin.
So how do those pesky sugar bugs from candy potentially lead to cavities or tooth decay in children? Let’s talk briefly about what’s happening in your child’s mouth when they eat candy, then cover how to prevent those sugar bugs on teeth from causing cavities while still letting your kids enjoy Halloween. After all, we at Kids Mile High love Halloween just as much as our patients and want them to have fun. The key is allowing kids to indulge in their Halloween treats while maintaining healthy teeth and gums! So how do you do that?
How Sugar Bugs on Teeth Can Lead to Cavities
Let’s start by understanding how candy and sugar can lead to cavities and tooth decay. When sugar meets the bad oral bacteria in your child’s mouth, the sugar-hungry bacteria — called streptococcus — gets to work, feeding off the sugar and breaking it down. In doing so, acids that harm teeth are produced. These acids weaken tooth enamel in what’s called “demineralization.” Over time, constant acid and demineralization can damage enamel and cause cavities. At Halloween, there’s more sugar… and more often. Very exciting for sugar-loving bacteria but not so great for kids’ teeth.
The good news is that it’s not all doom and gloom in the battle of the sugar bugs. Enter: saliva. As your mouth’s natural defense against tooth decay, saliva works to remineralize teeth and reverse the weakening caused by acids. Saliva contains minerals like calcium and phosphate which help enamel repair itself from acid damage.
However, saliva on its own is not enough for maintaining healthy teeth and gums, especially at Halloween. Good oral hygiene is a must against the effects of candy.
Tips for Promoting Healthy Teeth and Gums at Home
Even though your Denver-area dentists deliver top-notch pediatric dentistry, the biggest contributor to your children’s dental health is their at-home oral care. At Halloween, a little extra diligence in your kiddos’ oral hygiene routine and daily choices can go a long way in fighting off those sugar bugs. Dr. Paddy, Dr. Roger, and Dr. Meredith have a few oral care tips to help keep the sugar bugs at bay:
- Rinse With Water Right After Eating Candy
Swish water around the mouth a few times right after eating candy and say “good-bye” to those sugar bugs. Water helps wash away sugars that are stuck to teeth and the fluoride in water strengthens tooth enamel.
- Brush About 30 Minutes After Eating Candy
If at home, kids should take a few minutes to brush their teeth about half an hour after eating candy. Now, why wait and not brush right away? The acids from the sugar-and-bacteria showdown can soften tooth enamel and brushing might harm teeth more. This is especially true with all those acidic sour candies that have become so popular with our kiddos! Waiting 30 minutes allows saliva to first do its job of strengthening teeth and rinsing away bad bacteria and sugar before manual cleaning happens with a toothbrush.
And remember, when it comes to brushing teeth, dentists recommend that kids around six years old and younger should have their parents brush their teeth, while older kids typically have the dexterity to thoroughly brush their own teeth.
Round out your kids’ oral hygiene routine with flossing and, if they’re old enough, rinsing with a kid-friendly, non-alcohol-based fluoride mouthwash to really stop those Halloween sugar bugs in their tracks.
- Bring Out the Candy At Meal Times
Post-lunch or -dinner is a great time to pick out some Halloween candy: eating a meal stimulates the helpful saliva we talked about earlier and saliva will continue doing its job while your child eats their candy.
- Swap Regular Halloween Candy for the Best Candy for Teeth
You might be surprised to know that there is sugar that is good for teeth. Yes, it’s true! Sugar substitute xylitol is proven to help reduce cavities and gum disease and is found in some candies and foods. Xylitol slows down sugar-loving bacteria on teeth, decreasing it by as much as 90%.
- Try Avoiding the Worst Candy for Teeth
Rule-of-thumb for remembering the worst types of candy for teeth? The stickier, the worse it is. Gummy candies are a “sticky candy” as are caramels. The sugar in sticky candy, well, sticks to teeth more, including in between teeth and in braces if you have them. Ensure your child is extra diligent with brushing their teeth when they’ve had sticky candy. And if you have to choose between gummies and other candy, chocolate is the best choice. It’s easily washed away with saliva and swishing with water while sticky candies tend to remain in the grooves of teeth until brushed away.
Other worst candy for teeth? Hard candies, like lollipops, that your child has in their mouth for a long period of time and coats their entire mouth in sugar. And we can’t forget sour candies that have the added punch of being acidic on teeth from the get-go.
- Eat Healthy Food That’s Good For Teeth and Gums
Eating healthy food for teeth and gums like veggies, fruit, and cheese can help to counterbalance the effects of all that Halloween sugar.
Chomping on raw veggies stimulates saliva, and veggies have plenty of vitamins and minerals for healthy teeth and gums. Veggies and fruit to keep handy include broccoli and oranges, which have calcium for strong teeth and jawbones. Bananas are a source of potassium for dense bone minerals, and orange-colored foods like apricots and carrots have lots of vitamin A — important for ensuring there’s adequate saliva in your child’s mouth. And dairy products like cheese have vitamin D and calcium. Cheese also acts to balance a mouth’s pH so bacteria doesn’t thrive.
- Trade Candy for Toys, Games, or Special Activities
One way to lessen the amount of Halloween candy your child has is to trade candy for a new toy, game, or fun outing. This keeps the fun of Halloween but shifts the focus from sugar to things they’ll equally enjoy… or like even more!
Candy You Can Eat with Braces
For kids with braces, it can be hard to know which Halloween candy is braces-friendly, so the American Association of Orthodontists has a handy list of candy you can eat with braces. Go ahead and pick out those peanut butter cups, chocolate (without nuts or caramel), and cookies. But remember that sugar bugs work just the same on teeth with braces as those without so good oral hygiene is super important.
Let Us Help You Fight Those Sugar Bugs!
At Kids Mile High, we make kids’ dentistry fun — and we’re here to help your kids level up on healthy teeth and gums every time they visit. So if your child is due for a cleaning, a check-up, or you need some pointers from the pros about fighting those sugar bugs, Dr. Paddy, Dr. Roger, Dr. Meredith, and their friendly team are here to help. Contact us today to make an appointment at our Englewood, Thornton, or Central Park office.