Halloween adds to tooth decay risk, pretzels and chips won't help

Halloween adds to tooth decay risk, pretzels and chips won't help

Trick or treating may be great fun, and it can be just a lot of fun if certain precautions to protect teeth are taken, say various dental organizations on both sides of the Atlantic. If left unsupervised and without proper guidance and advice, most children will return home after an evening of trick-or-treating with a bag full of sugar-laden goodies which will be stashed away and last a long time. Left to their own devices, there is a good chance children's teeth will be exposed to hours of sticky sweetness as they munch their way through sweets, candy, chocolates and who-knows-what. Apparently, according to the British Dental Health Foundation, it is better for children's teeth if they eat all their treats in one go rather than coming back to them every hour or so - they are not recommending that children gorge themselves silly, but rather commenting the pros and cons of the two alternatives.

Dr. Nigel Carter, CEO, British Dental Health Foundation, said:

We want children to enjoy themselves at Halloween. The trick is to find a middle ground - not to gorge on sweets for hours.

It is important to explain to children that moderation is the key. They must be reminded to keep up their good dental hygiene practices.

Dr. Carter explained:

It's OK to have the odd sugary treat on a special occasion as long as children keep up their regular dental health routine. On a daily basis, it is important that children have a healthy balanced diet, with five portions of fruit and vegetables. This combined with a good dental cleaning routine with fluoride toothpaste will help protect the teeth against conditions such as tooth decay and gum disease.

Each time a sugary food or drink is consumed the sugar reacts with the bacteria in plaque (the sticky coating on the teeth) and produces harmful acids. These acids attack the teeth and dissolve the protective enamel coating on the teeth, which after many such attacks can lead to a cavity (a hole) forming in the tooth and eventually a need for a filling or extraction - something every parent would want their child to avoid.

The key thing for parents to remember is that it is how often sugar is consumed, rather than how much sugar, which affects the chance of decay. It takes the saliva in the mouth up to an hour to neutralise the acid. This means every time sugary foods or drinks are consumed, the teeth are under attack for an hour. If children are constantly snacking on sweet foods, their teeth never have a chance to recover completely.

That is why The Foundation recommends that children's sugar consumption be limited to a maximum of three meals and two snacks daily. Extra saliva is produced during mealtimes, saliva helps rinse away sugar and harmful bacteria - so whenever possible, try to include your child's sweet treats during mealtimes.

Swapping sweet things for savory, such as potato chips (UK: crisps) won't reduce the risk of tooth decay because they also create an acid environment. Acid environments inside your mouth increase the risk of cavities.

Adults should try getting little trick-or-treat toys, rather than sweets, or sugar-free candy, the Foundation suggests. Giving away fruit or breadsticks during Halloween may be worth a try. If you are going to give away sweet things, try to avoid sticky ones that stay in the teeth longer, such as toffee.

Researchers from Temple University, USA, also say it is not such a bad idea to let children gorge themselves with candy during Halloween so that the sugar is out of their system more rapidly. Pediatric dentist, Mark Helpin, Temple University, said:

The frequency of eating candy, and other refined carbohydrates, and their stickiness, are big factors in creating the risk of caries (cavities).

Carbohydrates can change the pH balance in the mouth - it becomes more acidic, raising the risk of cavities. Whenever a sugar laden candy is eaten - sugar is a carbohydrate - it can take up to an hour for the acidity in the mouth to go away. If a child has a sweet candy every hour for five hours, rather than gorging themselves in one go, the acid environment in the mouth may last much longer.

Dr. Helpin said:

If I eat a piece of candy now, the pH in my mouth will become acidic, and it will take 30-60 minutes for it to become normal. If I eat 2 or 3 pieces of candy when I eat that first one, my mouth stays acid the same length of time that it would if I ate just that single piece. It's still 30-60 minutes. If I keep eating candy throughout the day, there is acid in my mouth for a much longer period of time. The longer teeth are in an acid environment, the greater the risk they will become decayed.

Helpin suggest allowing the kids to have "a bunch now and another bunch much later", rather than spreading small amounts every hour over a long period. As with the British Dental Health Foundation, Helpin explains that mealtimes are ideal for dispensing sugar-laden goodies, when saliva production is higher.

Helpin stresses the importance of encouraging children to brush their teeth after chewing candy. Even if there are no toothbrushes handy, rinsing their mouths out with water three or four times after eating helps lower acidity levels in the mouth.

Helpin, along with the British Dental Health Foundation, and several dental organizations dispels the myth of giving chips and pretzels:

Chips and pretzels are also carbohydrates and they also will create an acid environment that can create cavities. These treats and snacks get stuck on your teeth, and that's the stickiness factor.

Dr. Helpin says he gives out sugar-free candies and avoids sticky ones.

On a practical note, Helpin says:

(Ultimately) it's not realistic to think you can tell your child you can't have candy, cookies, cakes, or other treats. Those are the things most people enjoy and we want our kids to enjoy life.

Source: Dental Health Foundation, Temple University

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