According to Temple University pediatric dentist Mark Helpin it’s the frequency of eating candy, not the amount, that increases the risk of cavities. So when her daughters go trick or treating, Megan Chiplock lets them eat as much as they want.
“We let them go at it, gorge themselves, and maybe for a few days after if they want a piece here and there,” she says. “But they really get their fill on Halloween night, and [then] it’s sort of out of their system.” “The frequency of eating candy, and other refined carbohydrates, and their stickiness, are big factors in creating the risk of caries (cavities),” adds. Mark Helpin.
The pH balance in the mouth can be changed by eating carbohydrates. The resulting increase in acidity can increase the risk of cavities, and each time someone eats candy it can take an hour for the acid environment in the mouth to dissipate.
“So, if I eat a piece of candy now, the pH in my mouth will become acidic, and it will take 30-60 minutes for it to become normal,” said Helpin. “If I keep eating candy throughout the day, there is acid in my mouth for a much longer period of time. The longer teeth are in an acid environment, the greater the risk they will become decayed.”
There are several ways that parents can allow kids to enjoy the holiday, and still minimize the risk, says Helpin, the acting chair of Pediatric Dentistry at Temple’s Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry. “Parents can let kids eat a bunch [of candy] now and a bunch later. But don’t let them have one piece now, then an hour later let them have another piece,” he said, adding that candy can also be dispensed as a dessert or snack. Treats as dessert at mealtimes? Good idea, says Helpin, because the production of saliva increases and that helps wash away oral acidity. Brushing teeth immediately after eating candy is recommended by Helpin, or at least rinsing out the mouth with water 3 or 4 times after eating, again to reduce acidity in the mouth.
Helpin warns that substituting small bags of chips or pretzels for candy doesn’t solve the cavity problem, either. “Chips and pretzels are also carbohydrates and they also will create an acid environment that can create cavities,” he says. “These treats and snacks get stuck on your teeth, and that’s the stickiness factor,” he said.
At trick or treat time, Helpin avoids sticky candies in favor of sugar-free varieties. Ultimately, “it’s not realistic to think you can tell your child you can’t have candy, cookies, cakes, or other treats,” says Helpin. “Those are the things most people enjoy—and we want our kids to enjoy life.”