Should Dental Hygienists Hand Out Halloween Candy?

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Halloween is just around the corner, which is exciting for children, but concerning for many parents. Along with safety hazards to consider, there’s the issue of excess sugar. Some families opt out of the holiday completely, and others put parameters in place, to mitigate sugar overload and tooth decay. So, where do dentists and hygienists fall on this spectrum? The research might surprise you. As many as 76% of dentists admit to handing out candy, but with a few caveats in place. Take a look at what research reveals about why candy is not as spooky on Halloween as some might think.

Sugar Alone Does Not Cause Dental Caries

While there’s no debate that sugar can lead to dental caries (cavities), it is not the sugar that actually causes them. Bacteria feed on the sugars we digest, and their bi-product (waste) is an acid. The acid, in turn, demineralizes (erodes) the teeth, leaving them susceptible to cavities. So while sugar will never be considered good for teeth, contrary to popular opinion, it’s the acid, not the sugar, that does the ultimate damage.

Many dental professionals agree that regular and proper brushing and interdental cleaning can mitigate a night of sweet indulgence, particularly if you brush after eating the candy (wait at least 30 minutes to brush, as to not brush acid around your mouth), or before you go to bed.

We can encourage patients to eat candy with other foods, to increase saliva production. Remind them to avoid grazing on candy all day, allowing sugar to linger on the teeth. Instead, choose a time to enjoy the treats, and then hydrate with water, and brush teeth about 30 minutes after.

Not All Candy Poses the Same Risk

Chocolate might be the most popular type of candy passed out on Halloween. This is good news for dental health since it also washes away (clears the mouth) more easily. The softer texture of chocolate makes it more dissolvable, and also gentler on the teeth. Dark chocolate has known advantages like antioxidants but also has a lower sugar content, which makes it a safer choice.

Sticky and gummy candies leave a lasting residue on the teeth, allowing bacteria time to proliferate. The longer the sugar sticks around, the more cavity-causing acid is produced. Hard candies pose a double-risk. They can crack or chip teeth, and they also remain in the mouth longer. When sucking on hard candy for long periods of time, the sugar-laced saliva washes over the teeth repeatedly, upping the risk of decay. Sour candy may sound less “sweet,” but its sugar content is high, and what’s more, it is highly acidic. That acid combines with your mouth’s production of acid to increase cavity risk.

Sugar-free Options are Safer for Some

While many dentists and hygienists hand out candy, they often do so thoughtfully. Many hand out a toothbrush with the candy, or offer sugar-free options instead. Sugar-free gum, where age-appropriate, is a fun treat that stimulates saliva production to reduce the risk of cavities. Some sugar-free gums even come with the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Little treats like spider rings and pirate eye patches eliminate getting into the sugary debate at all. These treats are also safest to offer patients with allergies or dietary restrictions. Glow sticks and fluoridated water bottles address safety concerns like being outside in the dark, and the dehydration and tooth decay that arise from lack of water.

While it may seem that dentists and hygienists would be the last people to hand out candy, research reveals that most of them do. Dental visits can provoke anxiety in children, and even in many adults. A little treat can make all the difference. Many dental practitioners agree that one day of indulgence won’t undo healthy daily hygiene, especially when paired with a toothbrush and healthy teeth tips. However, sugar-free and non-edible treats may be safest for some, particularly patients with allergies or under the age of three. If you choose to hand out candy this Halloween, stick with chocolates, especially dark chocolate, or even sugar-free gum, and add a toothbrush or fluoridated water bottle for extra protection.