Fall is finally here, which means Halloween is just around the corner! Kids typically love everything about the scariest night of the year, but their favorite part is the candy. Unfortunately, with all the candy comes the risk of tooth decay and cavities. The sugars in candy get consumed by the bacteria in their mouth, which leads to acids that attack the outer layer of their teeth (enamel). If the acids are left on their teeth, over time, the enamel gets soft and a cavity forms. The good news is this is a great time to teach your children about good oral health habits that will last them a lifetime! The following five tips will help keep your children’s teeth healthy, without depriving them of their precious Halloween treats.
Make a Plan
Before heading out for trick-or-treat, have a plan in place that determines how long their trick-or-treating will last, how much candy they are allowed to eat when they get home and what their daily limit is for the following days. It is extremely important to talk with kids about safety while trick-or-treating, which also includes not eating any of the candy until they get home. This will give you time to go through their candy to make sure there's nothing inappropriate in there and prevent them from indulging in excess amounts of sticky treats.
Separate the Candy
One of the most important things you will need to do is go through all of the candy. Just make sure they do not hide any in their costumes or around the house! Including the kids in the separating will help them to understand why certain types of candy and treats are not healthy for their teeth and gums. Caramels, taffy and even hard candies that take a while to dissolve are the worst offenders. These types of sticky candies cling to their teeth and gums, becoming more acidic the longer they are left on the teeth. They're basically cavities waiting to happen.
Discourage Candy Before Bedtime
Eating candy, especially sticky candy, before bedtime will significantly increase the risk of plaque forming on their teeth. The saliva in their mouth helps to rinse away harmful bacteria, but we don't produce as much saliva while we sleep, so the acids and sugars are allowed to sit on their teeth until they brush in the morning. If they put up a fight and beg for one last piece of candy before bedtime, choose something that is easier to remove with regular brushing, such as a small piece of chocolate. As soon as they have finished eating it, encourage them to floss and thoroughly brush their teeth before climbing under the covers. It is also best to brush teeth about an hour after eating candy or other snacks and about an hour before bedtime.
Encourage Lots of Water
It isn’t always possible to brush soon after consuming candy and other sugary treats, but you can help to reduce the risk of tooth decay by encouraging children to rinse their mouth with water after eating treats. Whenever the kids are eating chocolate, candy or other snacks, have water bottles available and teach them to swish the water around in their mouth to rinse off their teeth. Another option is to have your children chew sugarless gum or a gum with zylitol sweetener, which helps prevent tooth decay.
Visit the Dentist
Before Halloween, schedule a visit with your pediatric dentist for a cleaning. During this time talk with the dentist about getting a sealant for your child's teeth — this will protect the grooves in their teeth and may reduce the risk of cavities. This is also a great time to replace their toothbrushes and talk with them about the importance of good oral hygiene, which includes brushing three times a day, flossing at least once each day and eating foods that will help strengthen their teeth.
Kids love candy and there is no reason to deprive them of it, as long as they understand that moderation is key. Knowing that they have specific times of the day when they can eat sweets will help them to be less inclined to think about eating sweet treats throughout the day. Remind them that regardless of what time treat times are, it is important to brush soon after eating them.
Contact Wright Smiles Pediatric Dentistry to learn more information about dental sealants, to schedule a cleaning or about healthy treats kids that may help reduce the risk of tooth decay and cavities.