CARY, N.C., Oct. 26, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Halloween marks the start of a long candy- and dessert-intensive holiday season and that, says North Carolina Dental Society president Dr. Bob Hollowell, "is a good time to become more vigilant about how much sugar we consume, especially children."
"Parents can let their children enjoy Halloween treats," says Hollowell, "but it's important they do so in a responsible way."
Dental caries (cavities) are the most chronic childhood disease: 50% of children in the U.S. experience tooth decay by middle school and 70% by late adolescence. "During the holidays large quantities of sugar are consumed and it's a time to be especially careful," says Dr. Hollowell.
"When bacteria present in the mouth come into contact with sugar, they produce acid that attacks the teeth for 20 minutes or longer," Hollowell says. "Repeated acid attacks can cause tooth enamel to break down, eventually resulting in decay."
But all candies are not equally harmful. "Sticky candies such as gummies stick to the teeth longer, while others, such as chocolate are more quickly washed away with saliva or by rinsing. Hard sugary candies are held in the mouth longer, giving bacteria more time to create acid that weakens tooth enamel."
"The popular sour candy is probably the worst because of its high acid levels," warns Hollowell. "It's also important for parents to realize that it is not the amount of sugar consumed that's important, but how often. So, by nibbling small amounts of candy over long periods children can expose their teeth to acid levels that can cause decay."
It takes up to 60 minutes for saliva to neutralize acid in the mouth, which means every time sugary foods or drinks are consumed, the teeth are under attack for an hour.
There are steps to enjoy Halloween treats and still help prevent tooth decay:
- Consume candy with meals rather than as snacks, because saliva flow increases during a meal.
- Brush or rinse after eating candy.
- Chew sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals, because increased saliva flow helps wash out food and neutralize acid produced by dental plaque bacteria.
- Don't suck on hard candy for a long period of time.
- Opt for quickly dissolved chocolates, as opposed to hard or sour candies.
- Use fluoride toothpaste or fluoride rinse to help remineralize tooth enamel broken down by acid.
- Avoid hard candy that can break a tooth or crack a crown.
- Don't nibble. It's better to enjoy several pieces of candy in one sitting (Four small pieces of candy eaten all at once cause less damage to tooth enamel than eating four pieces over a longer period of time.)
- Limit sugar intake to three meals and two snacks a day.
- Consider handing out healthy snacks – such as fruit or sugarless gum – to Trick or Treaters.
- See your dentist during or after the holidays to detect tooth decay early.
SOURCE North Carolina Dental Society