Sunday, October 24, 2010

Halloween - Trick or Treat?

"Do you let your kids eat candy?"

I am often asked that question.

I have witnessed all kinds of parental controls and attitudes towards the consumption of sticky, gooey and sugary treats. With Halloween around the corner, who can avoid the supermarket aisles of supersized bags of every possible variety of chocolate, gum and candy.

Kit Kats, M & Ms, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Milky Ways, Butterfingers, Almond Joys, O'Henrys, Nestle Crunchs, Hershey kisses...
Gummy bears, Candy corn, Laffy Taffy, Airheads, Mary Janes, Sour patch kids, Lifesavers, Lollipops, Jaw breakers, Milk duds, Lemon Heads...

I am in no way trying to establish myself as an authority on candy, but you get the picture of the long list of available goodies that tempt not only children, but everyone yearlong and especially in the next few weeks as America gears up for a night of Trick-or-Treating.

Lets talk about what happens in our mouth when we eat sugary foods or drinks:

Bacteria in our mouth feast on starchy foods. They produce acids that bathe the teeth for approximately 20 minutes or more. If you have consumed a sugary drink (soda is the biggest source of refined sugar in the American diet) then you have the additional disadvantage of introducing phosphoric and citric acid to the oral environment. All these acids break down the tooth enamel and cause decay and erosion.

Can you picture 12 teaspoons of sugar in your mind? That's quite a lot of sugar. Well, bring up that visual when you drink a 12 oz can of regular soda. You are consuming that much sugar every time you consume a can of regular soda. It will be harmful not only for your teeth but your waistline as well. And remember the fact that those acids and sugars will stay on your teeth for a minimum of 20 minutes wreaking all kinds of havoc on your teeth. It is chaos and a riot in there!

We all are aware of candy and sweets causing cavities but what about sticky carbohydrates like potato chips? What happens when you crunch and munch chips with your favorite dip? I can't be the only one in the world that has to keep using my tongue to clear out the chips from tiny crevices between my teeth. They even stick to the chewing surfaces of my teeth.

Well, there is a price to pay with all this consumption of sugary foods, especially ones that are sticky and slow to dissolve.

Should you eat candy? Chips? Chocolate? White bread? Cookies? Granola bars? Raisins?

It's up to you. However, I can tell you that making choices of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, yogurt, nuts, cheeses, low fat dairy products and complex carbohydrates are healthier for you and your teeth. A balanced diet boosts your immune system and helps maintain strong teeth and healthy gums. There is a direct link between your oral health and your general health, especially your cardiac health.

Helpful tips for Halloween

  1. Sort the loot when you get home. If you don't like any of the collected candy, put it in a give away pile.

  2. Find a local organization that sends candy to our troops. Donate the unwanted and extra pieces of candy. Try

  3. Buy your kids' candy back or have them trade it for privileges they desire. Then donate it.

  4. Restrict eating the candy to specific times of the day after a meal (when the saliva flow is helping wash away the sugars and sticky stuff)

  5. Eat whatever pieces of candy you have decided you want to enjoy in one sitting rather than throughout the day. Follow up with brushing your teeth immediately.

  6. Candidly discuss the effect of candy and sugary foods on our teeth and general health with your children so they can understand why it's not a good idea to gorge on it. You will be surprised at how involving them in the discussion makes them want to take responsibility.

  7. Limit the amount of candy you keep in the house after Halloween. The more you have laying around, the more the temptation there is to eat it.

  8. Before Halloween, decide on a time period when it would be OK for your kids to eat candy. For instance, you may feel that 2 weeks of a little more than usual consumption of candy is allowable. Or, your tolerance may be for just a few days. Make a pact with your kids.

  9. Insist on proper brushing (brushing both the insides and outsides of teeth with circular motion at the gumline and the tongue and roof of the mouth for at least 2 minutes) right after eating candy. Supervise the younger kids and even brush for them if you feel that they might miss some areas on their own.

  10. Redirect the focus on the costumes instead of the candy.

  11. Enjoy the festivities. Try not to make candy and sugary foods and drinks the "bad foods." There is a difference between calling them bad and understanding the harmful effects of overindulging in them. By encouraging your kids to learn about nutrition and healthy choices, you will empower them to make smart decisions on their own. Policing them will not have the same long term result and may even push them towards viewing candy as a "forbidden" food. That can spur them to desire it more. Just limit the consumption and have them brush their teeth.

  12. Have fun with your kids and unleash the kid in you on Halloween!

And, yes, my kids do get to eat candy.

Until next time,

Be Well,

Do Well,

Live Well!