10 Tricks for Dealing with Halloween Treats

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Halloween Can Be an Oral Health Learning Experience for Your Kids

Pediatric dental experts say Halloween can be a time to teach your children good oral health habits for life, without depriving them of Halloween treats (think moderation). Denying your children the Halloween experience can send the entirely wrong message -- deprivation -- and make candy seem even more irresistible, leading to other problems. They may end up sneaking sweets or eating too much candy once they're out on their own. Instead, let them have the joy of Halloween in all its sticky goodness and the experience of going to a party or trick-or-treating.

The message isn't "candy is bad," but that candy and other sweets, in excess, can lead to cavities. Children learn two important lessons:

How to control their diets.

That what they eat relates to oral health, not just physical health.

Here are some tips to help keep your children’s mouths happy so their smiles don’t start to look like the Jack-O-Lanterns on your front steps!

Eat a well-balanced meal before trick-or-treating. This helps to reduce chances children will fill up on empty calories and sugar.

Avoid more harmful candy options. Not all candy is created equal, and chewy and sour candies are amongst the worst for oral health. Chewy candies can easily get stuck in the crevices between teeth, making it nearly impossible to wash it all away. Gummies and caramel have the potential to dislodge fillings, crowns, space maintainers and orthodontic appliances. Sour candies are highly acidic and can break down the enamel on your teeth.

Beware hidden sugars and starches. Glucose, fructose and honey that appear in foods such as cereal bars, flavored yogurts, fruit bars, pureed fruit pouches and juices can be just as destructive on children’s teeth. Snacks such as pretzels, with starches that stay in the mouth longer, can also lead to cavities.

Establish a “treat time.” Snacking on candy over a long period of time can be more harmful for your children’s teeth. Limiting candy time will help you restrict the amount of candy consumed and protect their teeth from too much sugary contact. This ritual “treat time” may last long after Halloween and help promote healthy thinking about treats.

Children learn that eating sweets shouldn’t be an all-day feast. Moderation is key.

Knowing they have a specific sweet time can help make children less inclined to think about eating sweets at other times of the day.

Pick 10 treats. After your children get back from trick-or-treating or a party, go through their bags of Halloween candy together. Tell them to each pick the 10 or so (whatever number you decide, based on factors such as age) treats they want the most. Letting children help decide what is a reasonable amount of candy to keep has benefits beyond good oral health.

Get the unpicked treats out of sight. You can donate them to a food bank, save them for future “treat times” or freeze them if you can't bear to throw them out.

Choose best options for a sweet treat. These include sugar-free gum and dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants like tannins, polyphenols and flavonoids that can inhibit bacteria from sticking to the teeth, preventing infections in gums and battling tooth decay. Sugar-free gum made with xylitol promotes the growth of tooth-protective, non-acidic bacteria which can make it nearly impossible for bacteria and plaque to form.

Swish with water. Let’s face it - most kids don’t look forward to Halloween for the sugar-free gum and dark chocolate. And that’s ok. If kids are indulging in any kind of candy, ensure they drink plenty of water after eating the treat.  Encourage them to swish the water around in the mouth to help dislodge particles that can get stuck onto tiny teeth. Decorate a Halloween-themed reusable water bottle to encourage your child to drink lots of water.

Reinforce good brushing and flossing habits. The best way to protect your kid’s oral health from sugary sweets is to brush and floss regularly. This is especially important following your “treat times!” 

Find a healthy balance. Everyone is going to enjoy at least a couple sweets during Halloween – you don’t have to deny yourself or your children a little holiday fun! However, it’s important to balance those sugary foods with healthy ones.

Sources: AAPD (American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry), WebMD

 

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