With Halloween and the holiday season approaching, children will receive many sweet and sticky treats. While exciting, it can spell bad news for their teeth and overall oral health if not approached with care.
Dr. Brad Kripke, general dentist associate at Carroll Family Dental in Bexley, and Dr. Rachel Rosen, a dentist in practice with Dr. Laura Adelman at Great Beginnings Pediatric Dentistry in Twinsburg, said parents should have a plan when it comes to sugar consumption in the coming holidays.
“Dental health knows no season, be it Halloween, the holidays or a pandemic,” Rosen said. “Structure, routine and common sense should be at the forefront of prevention.”
Parents should be sure their child is brushing, flossing and using a fluoridated mouth rinse, she suggested. Calling those methods “the trifecta of best oral hygiene,” she suggested children and adults should do their routine a minimum of two times a day, ideally after breakfast and before bed.
“Children who can tie their shoes and write in cursive have both the fine motor skill and, hopefully, the motivation to get the job done effectively,” Rosen said.
Kripke also placed importance on using a fluoride rinse, making the enamel on developing teeth stronger.
“There are some good rinses on the market and they’re really good for parents to incorporate into their child’s routine because it’s going to deposit that fluoride in areas that kids don’t brush as much as they should,” he explained. “I also really stress using floss sticks. A lot of cavities are caused by a lack of flossing, even if they have really good brushes and good hygiene. They are going to make it a lot easier.”
Along with a bolstered oral hygiene regimen, parents can also take matters into their own hands by regulating candy consumption. Create a candy trading program, the dentists said.
“They’ll have their kids trade-in like 10 pieces of candy for like a toy or something and then parents can donate the candy to a food pantry,” he noted. “I always like to encourage parents to approach it that way first. It’s positive and rewards the kids for making that decision.”
Rosen said, “Having a trade-in option is great, no matter the time of the year. It’s best to talk about this with your child before and discuss which candies the ‘switch witch’ will exchange for a small prize.”
But good oral hygiene and regulatory methods can only go so far. Parents should also be aware of what candies and foods to avoid in general when it comes to protecting their child’s teeth, Rosen said.
“The texture of the snacks and foods we eat does matter,” she explained. “Candies that melt, such as chocolate, spend less time on the teeth than their sticky counterparts, such as fruit snacks and sour candies. Halloween and holiday treats often include mini-bags of fish crackers and pretzels. However, these snacks are especially tricky because they gum up and break down into pasty sugars on the teeth.”
Parents should also keep an eye on how frequently children consume candy or sweet treats this season, Kripke said.
“Say you had a candy bar and brush your teeth right after, or you had a candy bar and didn’t brush for eight hours,” he said. “It’s more about how long the sugar is sitting on your teeth that put you more at risk than the quantity of sugar at one time. I always tell parents that when they get home from trick or treating, don’t let them have all of their candy at once. But if they do have some, brush as soon as possible to get the sugar off the teeth.”
Following Halloween and holidays, parents should plan for a visit to the dentist.
“No matter the time of the year, kids should have regular dental checkups every six months,” Rosen said. “As dentists, our goal is to be proactive with prevention rather than reactive with emergency care. Sticky candies are often the cause of fractured teeth, broken fillings, lost crowns and loose dental appliances.”
But if something is wrong, don’t wait until the new year, Kripke said.
“Your body is smart and it’ll tell you when something is wrong, especially if you have a cavity,” he noted. “I always tell parents that if a kid seems like they’re having trouble chewing or are showing signs of discomfort, bring them in.”