Halloween is just around the corner! Pumpkins are on neighborhood stoops and stores are stocked with costumes and candy. While filling up on sugary sweets is never a good idea, some types of candy do less damage to your teeth than others. We've asked Dr. Julius Berger, Director of Dentistry, to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to Halloween candy.
- Candy or gum containing xylitol
Xylitol is a naturally-based sugar that occurs in fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown that it can actually help prevent cavities. The decay-causing bacteria that lead to cavities are unable to feed off of xylitol, lowering the level of acids that attack the tooth surface.
Examples: Xclear candy, Trident gum
- Powdery candy
While essentially pure sugar, powdery candy dissolves quickly, leaving less sugar for cavity-causing bacteria to feed on.
Examples: Pixy Stix, Sweet Tarts
Chocolate may be high in sugar, but, due to its low melting point, it dissolves quickly and won’t stick to teeth for long periods of time. This leaves little time for bacteria to convert sugar to acids, which eat away at the surfaces of your teeth and lead to cavities.
Examples: Hershey’s Kisses, M&Ms
- Candy with fillings
Candy with fillings such as caramel, nougat and peanut butter are sticky and easily coat teeth. These sticky ingredients add even more sugar to your Halloween treat and can get caught in the pits and grooves of teeth, potentially leading to decay.
Examples: Snickers, Almond Joy, Twix
- Chewy or sticky candy
Chewy candy takes a long time to eat, so the sugary residue can stick around even after you have finished the candy. This can create a higher acid content in your mouth, allowing bacteria to multiply.
Examples: jelly beans, candy corn, caramel, taffy, gummy candy
- Sour Candies
Sour candy has a higher acid content than other candies, creating a very acidic environment in the mouth. Acid breaks down tooth enamel, leading to a greater risk for tooth damage.
Examples: Lemon Drops, Sour Straws, Skittles, Sour Patch Kids
- Hard candies and lollipops
Similar to sticky candy, these candies take longer to dissolve, leading to increased sugar exposure in your mouth. Another pitfall is the potential damage of biting down on hard candy, causing chips or cracks in teeth.
Examples: Jolly Rancher, Jawbreakers, and lollipops
So, what can you do? If you don't want to be "that" neighbor who hands out apples and pencils to trick-or-treaters, the best thing to do for your teeth and those of neighborhood kids is to distribute candy that will melt away and dissolve in a short period of time. Also, allow your children to have Halloween candy for dessert rather than as a snack between meals. According to Dr. Berger, “The best time to eat candy is after a meal because the mouth's saliva is already working to move food out of the mouth. And, insist on your children brushing their teeth directly after eating candy, especially before bed. It's important for sugars to be quickly washed away, so the bacteria that feed off them have less time to cause damage."
In addition to oral hygiene, emphasis should also be placed on food safety. Tell children not to accept – and especially not to eat – anything that isn’t commercially wrapped. Parents should always check the contents of their children's "goody bags" before allowing them to enjoy Halloween candy. Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers, and throw away anything that looks suspicious. Make sure your kids have a light meal or snack before going trick-or-treating so they are less tempted to snack on candy that has been uninspected. Taking the proper health precautions will allow your kids have a fun and safe Halloween.