Sweets are not always a treat for teeth

One of the most exciting things to look forward to in the fall is Halloween, with all of its pumpkins, costumes, trick-or-treating, and yummy candy. It’s a fun time for kids and parents, but as a pediatric dentist, I counsel my patients’ parents to be mindful of their children’s oral health given all the candy and sweets that are available. I don’t advocate not eating any candy or chocolate, or enjoying sweets at all. I myself have a sweet tooth, and it’s understandably nice to enjoy a treat now and again. What I do suggest is moderation and to keep quantity as well as quality in mind when deciding what your child will eat.

Eating too many sweets can quickly lead to dental decay, even if it’s consumed for just a short period of time. Also, certain types of candy or chocolates can be more harmful to your child’s dental health versus other types. Ideally, it’s better to avoid the gummy, sticky candies, lollipops, or chocolates that have gooey, sticky additives. A few treats from Halloween loot is fine, but try to weed out the majority of the above mentioned types of candy and chocolate from your child’s trick-or-treat bag. Plain chocolates are a better choice, and dark chocolate is even better, since it has antioxidants.

Having so much candy around after Halloween can be a temptation and lead to over indulgence. One idea I suggest to my patients’ parents is to donate some of the candy that their children receive. There are many local causes that collect extra Halloween candy, and many dental practices offer a fun incentive program that motivates kids to part with some of their treats.

Holidays in general increase the risk of dental decay, because special treats get added into the normal diet. Here are some other things you can do to help reduce the risk of your child developing a cavity:

Make sure your kids are drinking enough water. In Manhattan, our tap water is fluoridated, so anytime you drink it, you get some protection from cavities.

Add a third tooth-brushing. If there are days you feel like your child is indulging more than usual in treats, add an extra tooth-brushing into his routine during the middle of the day in addition to the normal morning and bedtime brushing.

Get dental sealants. Sealants are usually applied to permanent molars. In school-aged kids, that means the 6 year old and 12 year old molars. It’s a relatively uncomplicated, painless, and non-invasive procedure. Sealants are applied to the biting surface of the teeth, the surface that has deep pits and fissures, and the surface most likely to develop decay in school-aged children. The sealant shallows out the depth of the pits and fissures, making it less likely for sticky food particles and bacteria to get stuck in them. In some cases, younger kids who only have primary molars, or baby molars, may also be candidates for sealants. This is something you can talk to your pediatric dentist about, as other factors specific to your child should be considered.

Halloween is just one example of a seasonal holiday approaching, and there are many more coming up that will include fun times and delicious goodies. Keep these dental tips in mind so that your child can enjoy his treats in moderation and still keep that healthy, beautiful smile!

Dr. Lavanya Venkateswaran is a board-certified pediatric dentist. She is currently in private practice at Tribeca Smiles. Additionally, she is an attending at Columbia University Medical Center as an assistant professor of clinical pediatric dentistry.