6 Tips For a Tooth Healthy Halloween

6 Tips for a Tooth-Healthy Halloween

Vampires, pirates, and even T-Rexes will soon roam Albuquerque’s streets. As frightening as that prospect sounds, it’s what’s in their bags that’s truly scary. On average, each bag packs around 3 cups of sugar. A high achiever with a variety store plastic pumpkin could conceivably fill a 10-quart container with as much as 9 pounds of candy. That’s extreme, of course, but the average American downs 3.4 pounds of Halloween candy over the Halloween holiday. As a parent, you’re up against a tradition that works against the healthy habits you try to reinforce. And your kid’s teeth suffer. Don’t despair. Here are 6 tips to protect your family’s teeth and health during this Halloween season.

Tip #1: Focus on Activities, Not Treats

In Albuquerque, we have great community activities to take your family members’ minds off candy. The Galloping Grace Ranch’s Annual Pumpkin Patch is open daily in October for $4 per person (little ones under 2 are free). That buys you something for everyone: a harvest maze, duck races, pumpkin bowling, mud pie kitchen, scarecrow dress up, and fall décor for the decorator in your house. The petting zoo and paintball target arena are extra.

ZooBoo is another fun option at the Albuquerque Bio Park Zoo. On October 27, between the hours of 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., your family can enjoy games and haunted habitats. Wear your costumes.

Run or walk in the Run Fit’s Annual Great Pumpkin Chase on Saturday, October 27. Don a costume and follow the flat 5K, 10K, or Kids’-K course that suits you. Awards will be given per age group and for Best Costume. Check it out. Hydrate with water, not sugary sports drinks.

If you’re a tread head, get your bikes and pedal to Day of the Tread on Sunday, October 28. This charitable cycling event is for all ages and skill levels. Choose from a variety of rides: 9, 12, 26, 60, 64, or 100 miles. Of course, there’s a costume contest and a post-event party at Civic Plaza. Make sure your children have quick energy snacks for the ride like bananas and sliced apples. Both are quick-energy carbs loaded with vitamins and minerals.

Let’s not kid ourselves. There will likely be candy at Halloween events. So, carry sugarless gum and water, and make sure your kids brush and floss after these outings.

Tip#2: Break the Sugar mold

Steering kids away from enamel-damaging sugar and candy means rethinking what we take to school or community functions. When you receive an email requesting treats for your child’s school Halloween costume party, browse Pinterest for “Healthy Halloween.” You don’t have to spend hours. You need only a couple small Halloween cookie cutters, some sliced cheese, crackers, and some apple slices. And, voila! You’re a “cool mom” arriving with ghosts on crackers. If you have a bit more time, cheesy witches’ broomsticks will be a big hit at any event.

Tip#3: Hand out non-food ‘treats’ halloween night

When deciding what to hand out Halloween night, consider something other than candy. If you are conscious of plastic pollution, that leaves out fun items like glow stick bracelets and spider rings. Yet there are great alternatives. Have kids choose from a cauldron of fun Halloween pencils, which you can pick up in large variety packs. Kids also love temporary tattoos and fun stickers. Sure, you’ll see some crestfallen if not stricken looks, but more even children’s faces will light up as they find stickers or tattoos they love. Don’t be afraid to buck Halloween expectations.

Tip #4: Choose Candy Wisely

Perhaps you are of the mind that learning to eat candy in moderation is an important part of developing balanced and healthy eating habits. If that’s your perspective, then another option is to choose candy wisely.

Candy that does the least amount of damage to children’s tooth enamel.

  • Dark chocolate has the least amount of sugar, and it doesn’t adhere to teeth like other candies.
  • Milk chocolate is not as good as dark chocolate, because it has more sugar. Even so, it will wash away with saliva better than most other candies and cause less damage.

Avoid candies that are harmful to children’s tooth enamel.

  • Sticky candies. Avoid any candy with caramel or sticky, gooey centers. That means no taffy, Tootsie Rolls, chocolate-covered caramels, Milk Duds, or gummy candies. Even if the gummy candy says it’s made from real fruit, if it sticks to teeth, it invites bacterial growth that creates acid, which breaks down tooth enamel.
  • Boxes of raisins. Offering a well-intentioned “healthy alternative” of fruit leather or a box of raisins is terrible for a child’s teeth. According to Professor Liz Kay of the British Dental Association, dried fruit that has lost its water “is concentrated juice, basically just sugar.” Raisins are especially bad, as they stick in teeth crevices. Avoid them.
  • Sour candies are especially acidic and hard on tooth enamel. A healthy mouth has a neutral pH of around 7. Acidic foods lower that pH level, creating a hostile environment for tooth enamel, which can begin to erode at a pH level of 4. A mild sour candy like Sprees, often sold in individual packs as Halloween treats, has a pH level of 3. Sour Skittles, which are not only sour but sticky, have a pH of 2.2. These levels are terrible for children’s tooth enamel.
  • Hard candies or suckers. These allow sugar to linger on the teeth for longer periods of time. Hard candies can also break teeth.
  • Mexican candy. Chamoy candies fuse salty, sweet, sour flavors with the spice of powdered chilies. Sometimes in a sugar form, sometimes in gummy or sucker forms, these candy flavors erode tooth enamel.
  • Popcorn balls. These are well-intentioned treats that are fun to make and often end up at Halloween parties. They’re loaded with sugar, which adheres to kids’ teeth. Popcorn balls also harbor teeth-cracking kernels. There are better alternatives.

Tip #5: Don’t keep halloween candy in the house

If you decide to hand out candy on Halloween, don’t buy it way ahead of time. It seems like a great idea to buy bulk bags, especially if you live in a neighborhood with a lot of trick-or-treaters. But on stressful days, it’s all too easy to hear that bag’s siren call from a high cupboard. Or even a garage freezer.

Likewise, once your children have returned home with their treat bags filled with candy, have a strategy for getting that candy out of the house. Here are some creative ideas for getting rid of that candy:

  • Instill the tradition of a candy swap. Children leave their bags of candy out, only to find a fun gift from the Great Pumpkin the next morning.
  • Donate leftover candy. Groups like Operation Shoebox accept unopened candy and distribute it to troops missing the holidays while deployed.

Tip #6: Brush and Floss after Eating candy

In the season of candy consumption, more brushing and flossing is your final weapon against cavities. Help your children by providing them with fun new themed toothbrushes, and make sure they floss daily. If your child is going through a Star Wars phase and wants to be a Jedi for Halloween, find a Star Wars toothbrush or toothpaste. And parents, don’t forget to take care of yourselves. You do nobody in your family any favors by harming your own health by over doing, over-consuming candy, or getting too little sleep. Your oral health matters as well. Model the behaviors you want your children to adopt. Brush and floss often!

Author Info

Dr. Connor Hollowwa

Dr. Connor Hollowwa is an Albuquerque native. He graduated from the Albuquerque Academy and went on to receive a BA from Rice University. His Doctorate of Dental Surgery is from Creighton University School of Dentistry. Since 2014 Dr. Hollowwa has practiced at the state-of-the-art Isleta Health Center’s Dental Clinic, providing modern dental care for the members of the Pueblo of Isleta. In his free time he enjoys playing the piano, fly-fishing, golfing, and skiing.

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