During October millions of dollars will be spent on Halloween candy and some of it will end up leading to tooth decay, but it doesn’t have to. Halloween is a special time at our house. Even as a dentist I believe that my children should enjoy the candy they collect trick or treating. If a child has good dental habits, a temporary increase in candy consumption should not lead to a cavity.
It is common knowledge that sugar is the leading cause of dental decay. However, what I find is that patients do not understand the process that leads to cavities. So, I try to educate my patients on how cavities are formed. If they understand how a cavity is formed, maybe THEY can prevent tooth decay.
Bacteria naturally occurs in everyone’s mouth, but there are some bacteria that cause cavities, cariogenic bacteria. These bacteria feed off the sugar present within the mouth. The digested sugar is then excreted as an acid by the bacteria. This acid triggers a loss of minerals (demineralization) within layers of the teeth. If you lose enough minerals within the layers of your teeth, you end up with a hole (a cavitation or a “cavity”) in your tooth. When the hole gets large enough the dentist will see it on an x-ray or clinically on the tooth and officially call it a cavity. To form a cavity you need the right bacteria, carbohydrates (sugars) converted to acid, and acid sitting on the tooth for long enough to cause demineralization.
So, logically if you want to decrease cavity risk, you must disrupt the tooth decay pathway. Below are some things you can do during Halloween and the holiday season to protect your children (and yourself) from forming cavities.
- Chose less sticky treats – Sticky candies such as caramels, taffy, and gummies tend to attach to the teeth longer, giving bacteria more time to release harmful acids onto the dentinal surfaces.
- Eat candy quickly – Again, decrease the time that the teeth are exposed to sugar.
- Limit sour candies – Sour candies add a higher level of acidity to the surface of the teeth, causing an even greater problem with mineral loss.
- Swish with water – After eating candy, there may not be a toothbrush close by, but water is almost always available. Wash sugar off the surfaces of the teeth by gently swishing water around the mouth a few times.
- Eat a healthy meal before trick or treating – If your child starts out with a full stomach, they may be less likely to gorge on candy.
- Use toothpaste with fluoride – Brush with toothpastes that contain fluoride. Fluoride helps fill back in lost minerals on the enamel surface.
In addition to all the recommendations above be sure you and your family stay regular on dental cleanings and check-ups. Prevention and early detection of tooth problems is the key to maintaining a healthy mouth over a lifetime. If you do not already have a dentist for you or your family, please do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with our office.