By: Dr. Elizabeth Eggert
Halloween is right around the corner. As parents, we know the drill. Our kids put copious amounts of time into choosing the perfect costumes, rally their friends and map out plans of attack to collect the most possible candy in one evening. We’re caught somewhere between, “That sounds like the most epic Halloween ever, kids!” and “No child’s teeth can handle all that candy!”
In light of this pre-Halloween parent panic, we thought it would be helpful to take a little time to explain how different types of candy affect teeth differently.
Halloween candy worst offenders
Some candies are particularly problematic for dental health.
Hard sugar candy
Candy on a stick, such as lollipops or rock candy, is meant to be enjoyed over time. Because it lingers in your mouth, it increases the production of saliva. However, instead of the saliva doing its job and rinsing bacteria out of your mouth, it only spreads the sugar around. Additionally, your mouth produces acid in an attempt to destroy the sticky sugar that then coats your teeth. The acid and sugar team up to break down tooth enamel and, with repeat exposure, can result in tooth decay.
Another threat to teeth from hard candy is the temptation to bite down on it, hence the candy we fondly know as “jawbreakers.” Biting down on hard candy can easily result in broken or chipped teeth and sometimes upset the jaw muscles so much, pain results.
Just like candy on a stick, chewy candy lingers in the mouth. It gets stuck in your molars and between your teeth. If you’ve ever eaten Laffy Taffy, Sugar Babies or caramels, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Gummy candies or fruit snacks might seem like safer bets but they aren’t any better. They still contain sugar and get trapped in your molars and small crevices between your teeth.
Oh, and watch out for those delicious caramel apple suckers. Between the caramel, hard sugar candy and the fact that they’re meant to be savored, they can really wreak some dental havoc.
You might be wondering where sour candy fits into the picture. Warheads, Sour Patch Kids, Sour Skittles…kids LOVE sour candy and love to challenge themselves and their friends to eat large quantities of it or hold the sour candy in their mouths for long periods of time.
Unfortunately, sour candy attacks your teeth from two angles. Sour candy is both sweet and acidic. The sugar sticks to your teeth while the acid breaks down your enamel. Many sour candies are also sticky, further exacerbating the ill effects.
Does this mean your children can’t eat the hard and sugary, chewy or sour candies they rake in on Oct. 31? Not necessarily. However, armed with a little knowledge, you can avoid passing them out to the neighborhood kids and explain to your children why it’s important to limit their consumption of these sticky stinkers. Then remind them to brush and floss their teeth afterward to clean their mouths and remove any lodged sugar.
Halloween candy best choices
Sugar-free hard candy
Like its sugar-laden counterpart, sugar-free hard candy encourages the production of saliva which rinses bacteria from your mouth. However, sugar-free candy doesn’t cause the production of acid or stick to your teeth—a win for your pearly whites…and your sweet tooth!
One of the most popular categories of Halloween candy are chocolates. While many have sticky centers like Twix, Rollos or Snickers, others like Hershey’s bars and Nestle Crunch dissipate quickly in your mouth, making them more dental-friendly than almost any other candy.
While it’s not technically considered candy, sugar-free gum—much like sugar-free candy—helps your mouth produce saliva which rinses your teeth and helps ward against destructive bacteria. If you’re looking for a healthy option to hand out at the door this year (and don’t want to be the neighbor handing out mini bags of baby carrots!) consider giving out packs of sugar-free gum. Almost all kids love to chew gum, it’s allergen-friendly and will help cleanse their mouths from all the sugary, sticky, sour madness.