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Tricks of Sweets!
By Dr. Tareq Khalifeh, DDS

What’s a parent to do? Halloween is such an exciting time for children, and few parents want to deprive their kids of the thrill of dressing up and trick-or-treating. Still, they’re justifiably concerned about a host of health issues connected to those treats – from nut allergies to the health effects of too much candy.

From a dentist’s perspective, I see the destructive effects of sugar snacks in children every day of the year. Cavities don’t arise from a single night of overindulgence, but from an ongoing lack of good brushing and flossing, or the lack of fluoride protection for formative teeth. Such self-care is even more of an issue for kids with orthodontics, because the fixtures readily trap food particles that attract bacteria, the culprit in all tooth decay.

 

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That said, there are several things parents can do to minimize damage to their childrens’ teeth – and overall health-- on Halloween and beyond:

  1. Have a ready supply of sugar-free gum on hand and after your child has had a couple of sweets, give them the gum to chew. Be sure the gum contains the sweetener xylitol or sorbitol, which acts on the germs that cause cavities. Chewing sugar-free gum also stimulates the flow of saliva, which helps to wash away the acids left in the mouth from eating sweets.
  2. Give your children colorful new toothbrushes as part of your Halloween celebration (and once a month thereafter). Ask them to brush two to three times a day for two minutes, and show them the proper up-and down-motion. For little ones, you may have to do the brushing for them.
  3. If you haven’t had a fluoride treatment for your children at the dentist, considering getting one. Fluoride strengthens the mineralization of the tooth enamel, make it more resistant to decay. At a minimum, have your children use fluoride toothpaste and rinse with a fluoride mouthwash at least twice a day.
  4. For children wearing orthodontures, suggest they eat chocolate and other soft candies rather than chewy ones. Bits of hard or chewy candy are easily lodged in the orthodontic fixtures, where they promote rapid decay. They can also break the brackets and wires.
  5. Ration out your kids’ consumption of Halloween sweets and ongoing, daily sweet snacks and sodas. Some parents let their children have only two or three of their prizes on Halloween night and put the rest in the freezer. Other parents try to “get it over with,” letting their kids eat themselves silly for one or two days and then removing the leftovers. It’s probably better to take the rationing approach, because sugar also causes unhealthy spikes in insulin release, leading to fatigue, and opening the immune system to attack from cold germs and other illnesses.
  6. If you use candy substitutes, such as raisins, nuts, and fruits, be aware that these healthy alternatives also require good tooth brushing and flossing. Particles of these foods easily catch in between teeth, where they attract germs and decay against the tooth enamel just as sugary particles do. The difference is in the amount of acidity they create in the mouth.

So let them have their fun this Halloween. Just be sure you’re standing by to make sure they brush and floss and rinse those sweet sticky germs away.

Dr. Khalifeh’s practice, Philmont Family Dentistry,
can be reached at 518-672-4077.

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