Tricks for Enjoying Your Halloween Treats
The Halloween season provides more opportunities for candy consumption than any other. As dental professionals, we consider ourselves candy experts (both because we know the effects it has on oral health but also because we’re secretly some of the biggest sweet tooths around). While we can’t in good conscience tell you to never eat candy (especially around Halloween), we would like to share some important information that will help you to keep your teeth in the best health possible while enjoying some of the season’s delicious treats. The best way to keep your mouth healthy and still get your candy fix is to eat the right kind of candy in moderation and maintain a great oral hygiene routine. Here’s how.
Not All Candies Are Created Equal
Every different brand of sweet deliciousness has plenty of faithful followers. Whether it be Snickers™, M&M’s™, Skittles™, Starburst™, Laffy Taffy™, or any of the others, we all have a special candy that’s too good to share. Unfortunately, the candies that make your teeth happy might not be the same ones your stomach craves. Ultimately, soft and/or sugar free candy does the least harm to your teeth.
Why Candy Can Be Harmful to Your Teeth
You’ve probably heard all your life that candy is bad for your teeth, but have you ever wondered what it is that makes it so bad? Our dental professionals break it down for you:
- Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. Bacteria are the root cause of nearly every dental problem, and they thrive on the abundance of sugar that candy provides. All food causes some buildup on your teeth. After eating and drinking, little bits of food are left behind in your mouth. Out of all the food we eat, sugar does the worst damage to your teeth. Even healthy foods like milk, bread, and produce contain some natural sugar, but these foods also contain necessary vitamins and nutrients. Eaten in healthy amounts, your body has no problem breaking down the natural sugars with the other food bits on your teeth. The problems begin when you eat food that has more sugar than nutritional value. Without proper nutrition, your body may be unable to fight the bacteria and decay excessive sugar consumption causes in your mouth. The American Heart Association recommends you have no more than 9.5 teaspoons of sugar per day. However, in the U.S. the average adult consumes 22 teaspoons, and the average child consumes 32 teaspoons…every single day! You can imagine how much higher those numbers are when a stockpile of Halloween candy is around.
- Consistency. Candy comes in all shapes and sizes, but because of the common ingredients, candy sticks to your teeth, allowing more plaque to form in more vulnerable areas. Plaque begins to form within 20 minutes of eating. It is this plaque that damages your tooth enamel: bacteria in your mouth changes the food you eat into acid, eating away at the tooth and forming a cavity. Sticky candies provide the ideal opportunities for these harmful bacteria to thrive, and they make it harder to you to remove them through regular hygiene methods like rinsing and brushing.
- Addictiveness. Candy is designed to override our better judgment and be so irresistible that we eat way too much of it. And it works! Our brains are predisposed to give positive feedback to sugar intake, which can make many sweets as addictive as any other chemical. There have been a number of published studies in recent years that address the addictiveness of sugar. These studies have purported that sugar is just as addictive as drugs like cocaine and heroin. The authors of these studies cite experiments showing that lab rats are just as – and sometimes more – prone to choose sugary treats like Oreos over injections of drugs like morphine when given the choice. This is a direct result of the connection between sugar and dopamine, the pleasure and reward chemical produced by our brains. Might not be a pleasant thought, but good to keep in mind when you’re reaching for that fifth candy bar from your kid’s trick-or-treat bag!
The American Dental Association gives us a good summary of the harm that candy poses: When bacteria are left unchecked, they form the sticky, filmy substance we know as plaque. As the plaque sits on your teeth it produces a harmful acid that eats away at them, destroying tooth mineral. Once enough damage has been done, the structural integrity of the tooth is compromised and a cavity forms. Eating too much candy speeds up this process and paves the way for more damage.
How Can I Enjoy Candy and Still Maintain Good Oral Health?
Candy that is easily chewed and swallowed is best for your teeth. Hard, sticky candies stay on the teeth longer, do more harm, and can disrupt your dental work. It’s not uncommon at all for us to hear from patients who have lost a crown to a sticky treat. This Halloween, your best bet is to pick soft candies or chocolates that can be easily washed away with water (and on that note, don’t compound the problem by drinking sugary soft drinks). And above all, make sure to keep up at least twice-daily brushing and daily flossing throughout this candy-centric season. As mentioned, plaque begins to form in about 20 minutes after eating sugary food, so your best bet is to brush and floss your teeth within that window of time. At the very least, try to rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash shortly after eating candy.
If you have any questions related to diet and oral health, please give us a call today or ask us at your next visit. And have a very safe and happy Halloween!