One dentist shares the five ways her family deals with sweet treats.

Halloween is right around the corner, and with it come bags and bags of something sweet to eat: treats of all shapes, sizes, and stickiness. It can be a stressful season for parents worrying about the candy consumption of their little ones. It can also be stressful for dentists, imagining the havoc their patients are wreaking on their teeth. For a dentist who is also a parent? It’s a doubly sticky situation.

The New York Times reported on one such dentist and mother, Dr. Apoena Ribeiro, a pediatric dentist and microbiologist at UNC Chapel Hill. While her daughter was growing up, the family lived in Brazil, and candy played a central role in a holiday called the Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian. As her daughter came home with large bags of candy, Dr. Riberio brainstormed ways to prevent the candy from consuming her daughter’s diet for the weeks following the holiday.

A young girl and boy dressed for Halloween dump their buckets of candy into a large pile on the floor between them.

There is no need to be the Grinch of Halloween.

Despite what you might think, Dr. Riberio did not let her role as a dentist or mother turn her into the Grinch of holiday candy. She encouraged her daughter to enjoy the experience, and to indulge on the evening in question; as Dr. Riberio says, one sugar-filled night won’t sabotage oral health.

After the holiday has been appropriately and joyfully celebrated, it is time to deal with the candy stash that remains. Here are Dr. Riberio’s five tips for managing the post-holiday candy mountain, and how to allow children to enjoy the spoils of their Halloween without fear.

Five ways to protect your children’s teeth on Halloween.

#1 Minimize ‘grazing’

After the holiday indulgence, remaining candy is sorted into two piles. The first pile is for “treasures”: high-value candy that ranks among your kid’s favorites. The second pile is for donations—non-preferred treats that can be given away without regrets.

The next step is to put all of the “treasures” into a treasure box. By having a container with a lid or closure of some kind, the candy can be enjoyed only at times when the treasure box is open. One the treasure box is closed up, candy time is over. This prevents grazing or snacking all day long, one piece at a time. There might be a lesson here for adults, as well!

#2 Pair candy with real meals

Carbohydrates are are unsung protectors of your teeth. The bacteria in your mouth feed on carbohydrates, so when it’s time for dessert, these bacteria have already had their fill on those starches.

As you eat, also, you produce saliva, which helps rinse your teeth when you eat something sweet right after a meal. It has the additional benefit of neutralizing acids that come along with bacteria. It all adds up to enamel protection when candy is dispensed right after a meal instead of as a snack throughout the day.

#3 Brush ASAP

Your saliva from eating a meal can help rinse your teeth, but the best way to brush that bacteria off your teeth is the classic: grab a toothbrush and toothpaste. Brushing before bedtime is a good strategy, but it’s important to encourage brushing right after finishing with candy consumption.

Especially when it comes to young children, such as children younger than 7 or 8, parents may want to brush their teeth for them to ensure a full cleaning. By getting to it right after eating candy, parents can instill the importance of teeth cleaning after eating certain foods.

#4 Be wary of the worst candy

Not all candy is created equal. No surprises here: caramel is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to teeth damage. The sticky substance can get caught in crevices and grooves, hiding out and wearing away at enamel. It’s a hard substance to shake!

Sour candies, also, present some elevated concerns. They raise the acidity level in your mouth, which can further wear on teeth.

What does Dr. Ribeiro find to be the lowest risk candy? Classic chocolate. It’s less likely to linger on teeth, and is easy to brush and floss away.

#5 Find a teachable moment

Halloween is going to bring candy into your child’s life, even if you don’t bring it into your home. It’s inevitable! Bowls of tempting treats appear in schools, banks, grocery stores, and even at dentists’ offices. Much like the zombie hordes that populate the horror movies that become so popular during this season, candy will continue its unstoppable march into your life and into your home.

So what is a conscientious parent to do? Make it a teachable moment. Teach your children the difference between low-risk options like chocolate and higher-impact choices like chewy caramel and acidic sour candies. Encourage responsible consumption, set limits, and treat candy as an indulgence that can be safely and happily enjoyed with the right structures around it.

And as you can probably guess, the best teachable moment comes down your child’s best line of defense against bacteria. Teaching your children when and how to correctly brush their teeth can prepare your child for life to protect themselves against the problems candy presents, even after they’ve stopped letting you brush their teeth for them.

It’s a small reminder that Halloween doesn’t have to be scary, even for dentist.