Health Column: Have your candy — but brush those teeth, too

Halloween Candy

All the little locals now have what seems like an unlimited supply of Halloween candy, whether they worked hard for it or their families simply “bought too much.”

It’s a holiday of indulgence — and certainly a dentist’s worst nightmare.

Dr. Fred Ferguson, a pediatric dentist and director of Stony Brook University’s advanced education program in pediatric dentistry served up some tips to help protect one’s teeth while they bask in all that sugary delight.

Before diving in, he explained, it is important to know that sugars and carbohydrates are what spark tooth decay and cavities.

“Essentially, we all have these germs in our mouths,” he said. “When you introduce sugars and carbs in the mouth, some of those germs start to feed on them, producing acids.”

The process forms plaque, which is filled with those acids. They remove minerals in the tooth’s enamel, creating tiny openings where cavities begin to form, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“The more frequent the presentation of sugary foods, the more likely a [cavity] will form,” Dr. Ferguson said.

Here are his tips for making it unscathed through that candy collection.

Safety first. Dr. Ferguson said it’s important to examine all the candy, removing unknown brands or pieces that aren’t securely wrapped.

Then it’s time to lay down some ground rules.

“The problem with Halloween is your kid goes out and gets all this candy. I don’t want them hitting on that for the next few weeks,” he said. “Give your child four days to eat all the candy.

“To keep everyone happy,” he said, “tell them they can have all the candies they want, but whatever is left over goes” after the four days.

They will usually end up eating less candy in the long run, he said.

To “control exposure time,” he recommends only allowing kids eat their candy as soon as they get home from school.

Give them about 20 minutes or a half-hour to enjoy — then it’s time to brush their teeth, he said.
The worst thing they can do, he added, is eat the sweets before bedtime, without brushing.
“It’s like throwing gasoline on the fire,” he warned.

And, of course, that nighttime brushing is important for everyone all year long.

“The most important time to brush for your health is at night before bedtime,” he said. “Otherwise you’ll be loading your petri dish of a mouth [with plaque] all night.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, 42 percent of children ages 2 to 11 have had cavities, with 23 percent of those being left untreated until later in life.

Miller_HeadshotGot a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at [email protected].