Limiting some candies and brushing more often helps reduce risk of post-Halloween cavities
By Donna Shryer
“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” Shakespeare’s three witches hissed this incantation to mess with Macbeth, but come Halloween, it becomes the cavity goblin’s chilling jinx. As nougat centers and licorice whips replace eye of newt and toe of frog, dentists and parents struggle to reverse the curse of sugar-induced decay.
According to Charles Czerepak, DDS, a Chicago pediatric dentist who goes by the name of Dr. Charlie, the key to helping your costumed cutie’s reduce-tooth-decay risk is two-fold: Curb the most harmful candies and limit how long sugar remains in the mouth.
Brush Off the Fright Fest
Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar, which produce acid that erodes tooth enamel and causes decay. Saliva neutralizes some enamel-eating acid, but when sweet treats get wedged between teeth or mashed into crevices, saliva is defenseless. The sooner you remove the sugar from the teeth, the less the amount of acid produced. And less acid means keeping the cavity goblin away a little longer.
When immediate brushing isn’t possible, Dr. Charlie suggests a vigorous swish and spit of water or chewing gum sweetened with the natural sugar substitute xylitol, an ingredient in Trident and Orbit. Chewing increases acid-neutralizing saliva; and studies suggest that xylitol may decrease bacteria levels in the mouth.
As for rationing sweets, target anything that can’t quickly dissolve in the mouth, such as taffy, caramel, fruit leathers, candy corn and candy bars pumped with gluey center, like Snickers and Mounds bars. “The culprit is a binder that saliva can’t break down, so bits of candy cling to teeth until brushed away. It’s the perfect environment for decay,” Dr. Charlie stresses.
While hard candies and lollipops do dissolve, they also tend to stay in the mouth for a long time, which places them high on the danger list.
Candies that make kids pucker with delight deliver a double whammy: They’re loaded with sugar, and they get their sourness from a high acid level that erodes tooth enamel. Consider this: Water has a neutral pH level of 7.0, and Lemon Heads or Mentos Fruit Chews come in at 2.4, which is even worse than battery acid that has a pH level of 1.0.
A Good Witch Or A Bad Witch?
Plain chocolate, like Hershey’s Kisses, is the lesser of your evils, says Bill Gordon, University of Illinois Chicago dental student currently immersed in his pediatric rotation.
“Chocolate is high in sugar, but it also dissolves quickly, so it doesn’t stick between teeth, and saliva can do its job.” For the record, orthodontists favor plain chocolate for kids with braces, too.
Of course, if limiting certain candies and increasing brush-to-tooth time produces frightful moans from your child, you could illustrate the haunting effect of poor oral hygiene by popping in rotten zombie choppers. Muwahahahaaaaah!