My mom asked my almost 5-year-old son if he was going trick-or-treating for Halloween and his response was “Nanny, it doesn’t make sense, candy is yucky. It should be toys and snacks.” As a pediatric dentist, I see children hospitalized weekly from Facial Cellulitis. This is a large facial swelling from an abscessed tooth that is so severe it requires hospitalization, and often treatment in the operating room. So, as many may expect, I was secretly beaming when I first heard this wisdom come from my little man. But, the more I thought about it I started to actually feel a little bad. Would my son enjoy halloween? Have my strict, anti-candy ways stripped him of some of the innocence of his childhood?
I thought about it for a few minutes and I have come to the conclusion that compromise will be the solution to this as he gets older and I’d like to share some tips on how I, a pediatric dentist mommy, think we can all continue to enjoy the fun of halloween while sparring our pearly whites.
In 2012, the American Dental Association and PopCap surveyed a group of 5-13 year olds and found that “two-thirds of kids surveyed agree that they eat too much candy around Halloween, 89% say they would still like the holiday if it was less about candy and more about other types of fun, and fully 93% would prefer to receive a video game instead of candy while trick-or-treating" (1). Maybe children won’t be devastated if they receive/eat less candy after all…
With this in mind, I’ve created some tips that can help our kids enjoy a tooth-friendly halloween:
1) CHOOSE WISELY
The frequency and duration of sugar are some of the greatest factors involved in the cavity process, so eating one piece of candy with a meal helps the mouth to recover from the “sugar attack”. Hard and gummy candies are the main ones to avoid because they are in the mouth for an extended period of time. Choose a candy that will not stick to the teeth and will wash off easily, like a piece of chocolate, the best version being dark chocolate w/ almonds. Sugar-free gum is another great alternative to the hard and sticky candies because it helps to keep your teeth clean. Chewing gum with Xylitol has actually been shown to fight cavities!
2) OUT OF SIGHT OUT OF MIND
Separate the candy when they get home and let them exchange the sticky and hard candies for a non-candy treat or a toy. Check with local dental offices to see if they are accepting any candy that can be traded in or donated. Keep the saved candy out of sight and out of reach. Some of my dentist friends take a "one and done" approach and won't restrict the types of candies but the candy can only be eaten on one day, Halloween.
3) THINK OUTSIDE OF THE [CANDY] BOX
Give out something other than candy. There are many children who have food allergies and many parents would agree that less is more when it comes to candy for their children.
Some affordable, fun options include:
-Erasers/pencils …any party favors really!
-Small bags of popcorn
Some to avoid include:
-Raisins/dried fruit/fruit snacks
*refined carbohydrates stick to teeth and turn into sugar but are better than hard/sticky candy
4) IT’S IN THE GIVING THAT WE RECEIVE
My favorite part of Halloween is seeing everyone dressed up in their costumes! Spend less time out actually collecting candy and more giving out your “treats”. The kids enjoy seeing other kids at the door and you will enjoy the lighter load of candy your child receives. :)
I hope you have found some of these tips helpful! At the end of the day, when we know our littles have eaten something that may not be great for their teeth, we have our toothbrushes and floss to help get it off ;).
Dr. Colleen Helder