By Lisa L. Knowles, D.D.S./ Intentional Dental Consulting
There is a trick to eating candy and not getting cavities. I didn’t figure it out until a little too late. My childhood was filled with candy, and my teeth represent my poor sugar choices as a consequence.
As an adult and a dentist, I give you my top tricks on how to avoid getting cavities this Halloween season for your sake and for the kids around you:
- Do not buy Halloween candy until at least one week prior to Halloween night. I don’t care if it’s on sale or sitting on an end cap in the grocery store. Don’t buy it. You will have time the week before, and you may possibly pay $5 or $10 more in total for your purchases. But, the price of a filling is around $80 for a single surface cavity. The more candy lying around all month, the easier it is to eat it.
- If you do buy Halloween candy prior to the week before Halloween night, stash your candy in your highest cupboard. This will make it difficult to reach and therefore less likely to be eaten early.
- If you have children, set limits on the amount of candy eaten per day. And, do not let them keep their candy in their bedrooms until they have demonstrated a strong track record of self-control. One of my colleagues told me one year she informed her kids that any leftover candy would be removed the weekend after Halloween. She found wrappers and sucker sticks everywhere in their bedrooms. They ate ALL of their candy because they did not want it to get thrown out.
- If you are going to pitch the excess candy, do it undercover. Tell them to eat their favorites Halloween night (up to a certain maximum—our kids get to eat roughly eight bite-sized pieces), and then help the rest slowly disappear when they are gone—but don’t eat it yourself. Throw it out. My kids never eat it all and end up having Halloween candy for weeks.
- Eat your candy with a meal. Cavities thrive in an acidic environment. Sugary sweets are very acidic, and it takes the mouth about 30 minutes to buffer the acidic attack. If you constantly pop in a piece of candy every five or ten minutes, the buffering saliva never gets a chance to bring the mouth back to a neutral zone, or neutral pH. By eating your candy with a meal—or right at the end of a meal–you save your body from having to re-buffer again and again. The mouth takes a dip in acidity, chews and swallows food in an acidic environment, and then recovers. If you eat candy right at the end of a meal, the mouth is already at a lower pH, and it does not have to work as hard one more time. Never-ending candy eating at the end of meal is not good either.
- Try not to eat candy/sweets after 7 p.m. if you go to sleep around 10 p.m. or later. On Halloween night, this is pretty difficult. But, for other nights, try to abstain. The saliva works as a protective agent in our mouths. The longer the protectant is in the mouth without further particles, the less likely cavities will form. Additionally, the saliva production slows down when we sleep, so the protective agent disappears. This leaves teeth vulnerable to decay.
- Brush and floss before bedtimes. People who skip bedtime brushing and flossing often have more cavities. If particles of sweets are left in the mouth all night, with reduced salivary flow, an opportunity exists for cavities to flourish.
- Counteract the low pH in your mouth with fluoridated toothpaste that is not acidic itself. Some toothpastes add whitening agents and chemicals that can make the paste acidic. Buy neutral to high pH toothpastes.
- Avoid sticky candies and fruit type snacks. Read this post on fruit snacks for further advice: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/28/fruit-chew-snacks-ingredients_n_1304369.html
- Avoid sour candies. These candies are typically very acidic and they have sugar added to them. Things that are acidic and sugary are tough on the teeth.
- Avoid sticky AND sour combined candies. If I were to prescribe cavities, I would say pop a sticky, sour, chewy candy in your mouth every 15 minutes. I can almost guarantee cavities. Since many kids (and parents) do not floss, guess where the cavities likely begin? Yes, right in between their teeth—right where the chewy, sticky candies lodge each night.
- Eat candy in moderation and not every day. This is the hardest one of all. A piece of candy is probably enough for one day. I know…that is harsh. Some people can eat one bag in one day.
So maybe I cannot completely guarantee that you will not get cavities if you follow these 12 tips, but I hope you can at least avoid getting some cavities. There are many other reasons why people get cavities, from malformation of enamel on their teeth to poor salivary flow due to the intake of certain medications. Naturally, visiting your dentist for your check-up visit x-rays within 6-12 months from Halloween is advisable, too. This allows the dentist an opportunity to look for those in between cavities that might have snuggled in while you and your particles of chocolate chewies were sleeping. Better to catch them while they are small, than when they are big and hurting. If cavities do form in your mouth, it’s an oral indicator that something has to change. It’s usually how much and how often sugar and acidic products enter your mouth.
Halloween is often celebrated with candy. It’s a cultural ritual hard to stop. But, how you eat your Halloween candy can be changed. Have a safe and happy Halloween!