Trick or treat! If your house is anything like ours, Halloween is a battleground — trick or treaters horde buckets of candy like Viking loot.
Here’s a dirty little secret: We actually love Halloween! But as dentists, what we don’t love is the sugar — and for good reason. Too much sugar is terrible for your teeth.
In fact, the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease love sugar just as much as kids do. They scarf it up like trick or treaters on their way to a bellyache. Then they excrete acid onto your teeth, which eats at your enamel and irritates your gums.
But if you’re careful, you can still enjoy Halloween and a piece of candy or two. Here’s what you need to understand about sugar and how to protect your teeth with great dental care.
Sugar By Any Other Name
The people who write food ingredients can be sneaky — they know you parents are on the lookout for sugar. So they try to sneak in sugary ingredients under other names. Look out for added sugars — this could include coconut sugar, brown sugar, etc., but sugar is still sugar. Also be on the lookout for syrup — especially high fructose corn syrup. That’s a cheaper form of sugar with a fancy science name, but cavity-causing bacteria love it just the same.
How Much Sugar is Too Much?
As your dentist, we strongly encourage you to limit your sugar intake, but it’s impossible to completely cut it out of your diet. How much sugar is okay? Women, children, and teens should consume no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day, and men 36 grams (9 teaspoons per day,) according to the American Heart Association.
That sounds like a lot, but keep in mind your average soda is about 10 teaspoons of sugar. Be careful of what you eat and drink. Considering the ingredients in food these days, it’s easy to blow that sugar quota right out of the water.
Your Mouth is a Battleground
We mentioned that Halloween can be a battleground (kids can get downright ruthless when it comes to candy), but the real battleground is in your mouth. Your teeth and gums are constantly under attack by acids. But fortunately, this damage can be reversed. Your saliva, for instance, naturally cleanses your teeth. That’s why we recommend chewing sugar-free gum (emphasis on sugar-free) throughout the day. This boosts your saliva production to give your teeth a bath.
We’d also recommend eating lots of fibrous vegetables and fruit to help clean your teeth. Eat plenty of cheese, yogurt and other dairy products rich in calcium and phosphates to strengthen your teeth. You should also brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste, use fluoride mouthwash, and receive fluoride treatments at your dentist. Fluoride is a natural substance that helps fortify your teeth — it’s great for both kids and adults.
Sweet Tooth? Kids, Candy, & Dental Health
We’re dentists, but we know Halloween is a special and fun time of year. And in the weeks following Halloween, kids are going to eat candy. (We also know you parents will be making your own sneaky midnight raids too). And that’s okay. A little candy is fine. After all, we’re all human and life is supposed to be sweet.
But try to limit your children’s candy. Have them pick out a piece or 2 a day to last until Thanksgiving and portion it out. Donate the rest to the candy dish at the office or donate it to your local church or food pantry.
Have your kids drink water after eating candy. Don’t forget to brush, especially after a post-Halloween candy bash. See your dentist regularly. Get fluoride treatments. Moderation and great dental care is key to dental health. Your smile is important — protect it and keep it beautiful!