Dr. Linda Vidone (left) is a dentist in Brookline and the dental director for Delta Dental of Massachusetts. She reveals the worst sweets for your child's teeth during this time of year when sweets are so popular. We ask her whether it's realistic for kids to avoid candy on Halloween, how parents can help protect kids' teeth, and what she gives out to trick-or-treaters on the big night. Also, we give you the breakdown on five types of treats and what they do to your teeth (and what percentage of kids eat each on Halloween!).
Parent Buzz: As a dentist, do you just shake your head every Halloween as you think about children devouring so much candy?
Vidone: No! I think it’s a great time and it’s a good opportunity to start talking about teeth and what’s good for teeth and promote oral health. I love how we get so much attention at Halloween.
Parent Buzz: Is it realistic to expect kids not to eat candy at Halloween?
Vidone: You know, everything in moderation. Yes, it’s very unrealistic. We know they are going to eat candy. We just have to limit it. Everything in moderation.
Parent Buzz: So how can parents manage the amount of candy their kids eat after trick-or-treat is over?
Vidone: I think the parents really do need to take the bag from them. Parents should really take that bag and sort it in terms of what you really want the child to have.
Parent Buzz: Are all candies created equal when it comes to potential damage to teeth?
Vidone: Oh no, no no.
Parent Buzz: Which candy is the most harmful and why? Which candy is the least harmful and why?
Vidone: Sticky candies, the caramels. Those are really the worst. That’s what you really want to avoid. The gummy bears, the Starburst. You want to stick with, ideally, sugar-free candy, chocolate, even, because it dissolves quickly. The chewy candies, what happens is the sugar gets in the grooves of the teeth and it kind of stays there. The longer the sugar remains on the tooth, the more potential decay can occur.
Parent Buzz: Is this a good time of year to schedule a cleaning?
Vidone: Absolutely. It’s a good time to really reevaluate a child’s teeth. That’s why we love this time of year. Sometimes it jogs a parent's memory.
Parent Buzz: Should kids with braces be extra careful when eating Halloween candy?
Vidone: Oh absolutely. It’s hard enough to really get in between those wires, flossing. To put sticky candy there, not only do you run the risk of decay. But you have a potential of cutting the wire with some of these candies.
Parent Buzz: According to a Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health survey, 80 percent of parents eat their children’s Halloween candy. So what is your message to parents about their own teeth this time of year?
Vidone: You have to practice what you preach. If you are going to tell your children in moderation, you have to do the same.
Parent Buzz: What are some ways parents can dispose of excessive amounts of unwanted candy after Halloween is over?
Vidone: A lot of dental offices do a buy back, if you bring the candy. Not only do the kids get a little cash, it’s a great opportunity for the dentists to give back to someone else. They ship the candy to other countries where it's really appreciated. Or one dentist office donated to the military, which is a nice option.
Parent Buzz: Do you give out candy on Halloween?
Vidone: Everybody always asks me as a dentist, 'C’mon, what do you give out? Personally, I give out toothbrushes, little samples of toothpaste, coloring books, stickers. My friends say, 'Oh the kids must hate going to your place.' But, you know, they really don’t. This year we’re giving away SpongeBob SquarePants tooth brushes.
Here is the breakdown of candy from least to most harmful for your teeth, as rated by Delta Dental of Massachusetts:
Sugar-free candy and gum with xylitol. Sugar-free foods are void of sugar that feed on bacteria in the mouth and produce decay-causing acids. Choose gum with xylitol (a naturally occurring sugar) and it can actually counterattack the acid formation that causes decay. Percentage of kids who eat sugar-free candy at Halloween: 44.
Powdery candy. The texture of powdery candy is what makes it less harmful. It dissolves quickly, which prevents the sugar from sticking to teeth and producing acids and bacteria. Percentage of kids who eat powdery candy on Halloween: not available.
Chocolate. Chocolate dissolves quickly in your mouth, which means sugar has less contact with your teeth. Also, calcium in chocolate can potentially help protect tooth enamel. But beware of chocolate filled with caramel or nuts, which can be harmful for teeth because it is harder to chew. Percentage of kids who eat chocolate at Halloween: 86.
Hard candy. Hard candy such as mints or lollipops are tough on teeth because of the way they are sucked on at a leisurely pace. This means the candy coats your teeth with sugar. Also, biting down on hard candy can chip or break teeth. Percentage of kids who eat hard candy at Halloween: 50.
Chewy candy. Candy such as caramels or gummies are particularly damaging because they are high in sugar and spend a prolonged amount of time stuck to teeth. They are also more difficult for saliva to break down. Percentage of kids who eat chewy candy at Halloween: 57.
Photos: Gum: iStockphoto.com; Powdery candy: iStockphoto.com; Chocolate: Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images; Lollipop: Mark Lennihan/AP; Gummy bears: Ina Fassbender/Reuters
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Kristi Palma, Boston.com Moms producer, is the mom of a first grader and a preschooler. She is a writer who enjoys cooking her grandmother's Italian recipes (when her son isn't launching paper airplanes into them). Follow her on Twitter @kristipalma.