We are upon that time of year when excitement is at an all time high, as are the sugary candies and treats associated with the upcoming Halloween and soon to follow holiday festivities. From Trunk Or Treats to class parties to old fashioned Trick Or Treating, chances are good your children will increase their sugar intake over the next several weeks. And of course, after Halloween comes even more class holiday parties, cookie exchanges, and gingerbread house decorating – so yes, there is certainly no shortage of sugar over the next few months. Is it possible to have a healthy Halloween?
As both a mom and a pediatric dentist, I see both sides of the sugar effects. I see the pure joy in my children’s eyes as they enjoy Halloween candy and holiday fun, and I also have seen first hand what this excess can do to teeth. At our house we try to have a balance between partaking in the indulgences while also doing what we can to keep those little mouths and teeth as healthy as possible.
Here are some of my best tips for maintaining that healthy Halloween balance:
Brush And Floss
While this is likely a given, it should be emphasized that the best way to avoid cavities and oral health concerns is to brush and floss regularly. A child (ideally with parental help) should brush at least twice a day and floss once per day. If there are any mid afternoon treats it would be a great idea to brush afterwards as well. This tip is not just for a healthy Halloween, but for oral health year round.
For the most effective brushing, keep in mind that circular motions will clear the teeth of food and plaque much better than a scrubbing motion. Especially when it come to cleaning out the grooves of back teeth, circular brushing is the way to go.
Another brushing tip commonly forgotten is making sure that the lips are pulled up and the cheeks are pulled back in order to access all parts of the teeth. In young children especially, the lips and cheeks can become very tight when brushing and therefore the front surfaces of the teeth may be covered and not well cleansed.
Sticky Is Icky
Just remember this phrase and it will get you far with oral health! Of course, all candy should be eaten in moderation, but especially the sticky candies. Things such as Laffy Taffy, Dots, Tootsie Rolls, and Gummies can stick significantly in the grooves of the teeth and be hard to completely remove, even with great brushing habits. Sticky candies can also pull off dental crowns, orthodontic appliances, and even occasionally fillings.
To play it safe, limiting sticky candies is the best way to go. If your child does have something sticky, and as this is real life odds are high they will, be sure to be extra vigilant with brushing before bed!
Donate Or Switch Witch
After Halloween, consider starting a tradition with your family to rid the house of excess sugar. I personally let my children consume a fair amount of candy on Halloween evening and pick a few things to keep and then donate the remainder. Our dental office takes part in Operation Gratitude which puts together care packages for our US troops and military personnel. We invite children in our community to donate any unwanted Halloween candy in exchange for money or a prize. If this is something your family is interested in, you can find a participating office near you by going to the Operation Gratitude website.
You can also start the tradition in your family of the Switch Witch. Round up all the extra candy in the house after Halloween and leave it for the Switch Witch, who will come overnight and exchange the candy for healthy snacks and/or non-food items. I’ve seen lots of fun stories and photos from the Switch Witch tradition and many children really enjoy it!
Water, Water, Water
Another great way to keep your little one’s mouths healthy when you know they will be indulging in treats is to offer an abundance of water. Water will not keep your child hydrated (sugar can be dehydrating), but it will also help to dilute and wash away sugars from the teeth. Water is certainly not a replacement for tooth brushing but can be a very helpful added oral health measure for a healthy Halloween.
Regular Dental Checkups
Life happens and children do sometimes get cavities – do not fret! The best thing to do is keep up with regular dental visits (most often twice per year is recommended) so that any issues can be detected when they are first starting. If you go too long in between dental visits this allows ample time for a dental cavity or issue to become much more troublesome. If you do not yet have a future routine visit scheduled for your children be sure to call your dentist and get that scheduled while it’s fresh in your mind!
For more candy-free Halloween tips, check out this post. Wishing everyone a fun, safe, and healthy Halloween…. And remember to brush and floss!