October is Dental Hygiene Month and it ends with the biggest candy event of the year – Halloween! Along with superheroes, video game characters, Barbie variations, and pets dressed as food, Mouth Monsters will be making the Trick or Treat rounds. Cava-Teena, Dracteria, Plaxus, Gum Denise, and Ginger-Vitus are probably the scariest of all since they are lurking in every bag or bucket just waiting to invade sugar filled mouths and cause tooth decay.
But let’s start with some fun facts! The most popular Halloween candy in Colorado by sales is Hershey’s Kisses, followed by Twix and Milky Way. We obviously love our chocolate and caramel! The most popular candy for Halloween according to several surveys that rank candy is Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. The LEAST popular candy, surveys call it the “worst” Halloween candy, is Candy Corn… however, that is controversial because by sales it is also popular, and pops up on both best and worst candy lists. People seem to strongly feel one way or another about Candy Corn!
It is possible to enjoy Halloween and candy and also prevent cavities. Let’s take a minute to talk about cavities and why we want to avoid them.
Cavities are literally holes in the teeth! These are caused by buildup of bacteria that interact with the foods we eat to form plaque and erode the enamel. Then those holes can fill with more bacteria leading to pain, gum disease, and serious health problems throughout the whole body. The teeth can be considered the basis for whole-body health which is why it is so important to start good dental hygiene habits early. This includes flossing and brushing, and also paying attention to what and how you eat. Sugar literally feeds cavity-causing bacteria.
We don’t want to take the joy out of Halloween and the tradition of collecting, sorting, and EATING the candy. There are definitely ways to enjoy the festivities without inviting Mouth Monsters to take up residence.
1. Eat candy after meals, drink water to rinse, and then brush within an hour. When you have candy after a meal, there is already saliva flowing that helps rinse away acids that bacteria produce in the mouth. Drinking water of course rinses the mouth, and then flossing and brushing get rid of any candy particles and cleans away the bacteria that causes plaque and leads to cavities.
2. Avoid hard, sticky, gummy, and sour candies that expose teeth to sugar for long periods of time. Sticky candies also may destroy sealants. Sour candies have a lot of acid that are terrible for the enamel on the teeth, which also increases the risk of cavities.
3. Chocolate is a better choice from the perspective of dental hygiene because it melts quickly and rinses away easily. Dark chocolate is best because it contains less sugar than other chocolates and, as a bonus, it contains polyphenols which help limit oral bacteria!
4. Trade in candy for another reward like a toy or game and then donate the candy to an organization that puts together care packages for troops. Treats for Troops is one such program: https://soldiersangels.org/volunteer/special-campaigns/treats-for-troops/
5. Brush with fluoride toothpaste – and use dental floss! Brushing alone gets only 60% of the tooth area clean while bacteria can remain between teeth and continue to produce plaque. Flossing at least once a day removes plaque that a brush won’t reach between the teeth and under the gum line. People tend to floss after brushing but if you floss first, brushing removes everything that flossing will have loosened.
6. It seems counter-intuitive, but when it comes to dental hygiene, it is actually better to “binge” on Halloween candy and then put it away or get rid of it than it is to have a little bit over long periods of time. Frequent snacking exposes the mouth to a constant supply of sugar. Indulge for few days – while keeping up the daily dental hygiene regimen – then put away the candy until another special event and go back to healthier snacking.
7. Chewing sugar-free gum can actually help prevent tooth decay! As you chew, the mouth makes extra saliva which helps wash away food and neutralize acids that contribute to cavities. Sugar-free gum can be used after a meal or snack, and be used instead of candy when the urge hits for something sweet and flavorful.
By limiting the type of candy that the Mouth Monsters love best, and practicing a few good dental hygiene habits, you can frighten away Cava-Teena, Dracteria, Plaxus, Gum Denise, and Ginger-Vitus before they have a chance to invade.