As a mother of two daughters, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays of the year. We start discussing costume ideas months in advance — way before the leaves begin to change or any signs of fall peep through. I love seeing my daughters’ imaginations come to life as they joyfully agonize over choosing the perfect costume. I’ve even been known to join in on the fun with a costume of my own to support whatever theme my daughters have dreamed up.
As a parent and neighbor, it’s a delight to encounter all the gleeful ghouls and goblins as they canvass the neighborhood or Halloween party, gathering as many treats as possible in their treat bags and buckets.
As a dentist, I try to set realistic and healthy expectations for my daughters’ candy consumption so as to mitigate potential tooth decay and cavities from eating too much sugar. Here are a few tidbits of advice to keep you and your child smiling this Halloween:
When it comes to effects on teeth, not all candy is created equal
(Refined) sugar is (refined) sugar, and anything that contains it poses a threat to teeth in terms of cavities and tooth decay. That said, gummy, sticky and hard candy is much more likely to stick to teeth or find its way into the small grooves of a child’s tooth.
When possible, encourage your child to opt for chocolate candy as it dissolves quickly in the mouth and doesn’t carry the same risk of clinging to teeth for an extended period of time, which causes dental problems. Even better options would be the fruit from a health-conscious neighbor, or xylitol candies and gum, which can even be beneficial for teeth!
Be strategic about your child’s treat bag or bucket
You know it, you were a child once, too. Your child’s goal at Halloween is to fill up his or her treat bag to MAX CAPACITY. The kid with the most candy overflow gets bragging rights until at least Thanksgiving. This is a tenet of Halloween, no getting around it.
As parents, this is where we get to play magician and create an optical illusion of our own. Our goal: reduce the quantity of candy our child brings home. To children, especially younger ones, an overflowing gallon-sized bucket is just as rad as an overflowing three-gallon bag. The net amount of candy, however, is much different. Go with the smaller bucket.
Out of sight, out of mind (or at least, not on the counter begging to be eaten)
I won’t try to convince you that your child will forget about their lot of candy so long as it’s strategically placed out of view. That. Won’t. Happen. Ever. I will suggest, however, that you will have much more control over the quantity of candy and frequency at which your child consumes it, if their candy is tucked away.
It’s a good idea to set ground rules about when and how much candy your child can eat in a given day. From an oral hygiene (and health) perspective, having a few pieces after lunch or dinner is much better than allowing them to snack on it throughout the day.
Encourage a good oral hygiene routine
Ok, yes — this is an evergreen rule from the dentist, regardless of the time of year, but it is especially important during Halloween. The key to maintaining a healthy smile, despite a Halloween candy feast, is to ensure children thoroughly brush and floss their teeth shortly after they’ve eaten sweets. In a pinch when a tooth brush and floss aren’t handy, rinsing with water will help eliminate some of the excess sugar that might otherwise hang around.
Donate or “sell” excess candy to support our troops
Several dental practices throughout the Portland area host candy buy-back programs in which children can exchange their Halloween candy for cash or prizes. In my practice, for example, we pay cash per pound of candy a child brings in. The candy is then donated to Operation Gratitude, an organization that ships it overseas to our troops who are fighting hard for our country. As dentists, we’re pleased that the amount of candy the children consume has been limited; the child is pleased to get a bit of money to put in their piggy bank; and our troops receive a sweet little token of support and appreciation from home. It’s a win-win-win.