Look, we know sugar — especially the refined sugar in candy — isn't good for us. And sure, we try to avoid it whenever possible… but what about Halloween? Is it really that bad to let kids indulge like this once a year?
To answer this question, we turned to the professionals who deal with much of the Halloween candy aftermath: dentists. Do they think we should skip the candy altogether?
Hardly. According to a 2017 survey by the American Dental Association, more than 76 percent of dentists give out some type of candy for the spooky holiday.
"Nobody wants to deny their child candy, because of course it’s delicious," Dr. Craig S. Armstrong, a dentist in Houston, Texas, tells SheKnows. "Additionally, it is ingrained as a childhood experience in our culture. Of course, dentists are not winning any popularity contests telling people to give up sweets. However, like almost every other aspect of our health, I’d recommend balance."
But what does eating candy do to your teeth? According to Armstrong, decay is the process of bacteria living on the teeth, metabolizing these sugars easily and producing a level of acid that can break down the tooth structure. However, for this to occur, the offending bacteria and the food source would have to stay on the tooth surface for a long amount of time — hence, the importance of brushing and flossing as soon as possible.
"We often say the formula for decay is tooth plus bacteria plus food plus time," he explains.
But there is a best (well, better) type of candy to hand out. According to most of the dentists we spoke with, chocolate is the best bet because it is easiest to wash off your teeth. Dr. LaQuia Vinson, pediatric dentist with Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis, tells SheKnows that candy that melts away quickly, like chocolate, is a good option — especially M&M's.
And if you’re looking for an even better option, dark chocolate has less sugar than milk chocolate. Not only that, but Los Angeles-based dentist Dr. Jon Marashi tells SheKnows that chocolate is actually better for your teeth than raisins, which can easily get stuck on and in between teeth (not to mention make your house the least popular on the block).
Though it may not be a top pick for the kids, sugar-free candy is also an option. Dr. Deepak Songra, a dentist in Bermuda, tells SheKnows that he recommends Tom & Jenny’s sugar-free chocolate soft caramels, Russell Stover Sugar-Free Peanut Butter Crunch, sugar-free saltwater taffy and SmartSweets low-sugar gummy bears.
And what do dentists suggest you avoid giving out to trick-or-treaters?
If chocolate is a good option because it washes off easily, then it makes sense that sticky and gummy candies — which get stuck in all your teeth’s nooks and crannies — are not ideal. Along the same lines, Arizona dentist Dr. Justin Philipp tells SheKnows that sour candies should also be avoided because their higher levels of acid can break down tooth enamel, and we should skip hard candy (including lollipops) because it stays in your mouth longer, letting it do more damage.
Healthy Halloween tips
Candy aside, dentists have other recommendations for having a healthy Halloween — at least when it comes to your teeth. Here are a few:
Bring a bottle of water
Vinson recommends bringing a bottle of water along when you take your kids trick-or-treating. "Drinking water between bites of candy helps wash away sugar buildup," she says.
Feed the kids
It sounds like common sense, but Vinson reminds parents to make sure their kids have eaten a hearty meal before trick-or-treating. That way, they'll still get to enjoy their candy, but they won't completely fill up on it.
Set a time limit
Kids are understandably very excited to get a bagful of their own candy. But we have to let them know that eating candy should come with a time limit. "Kids need to know that eating sweets isn’t a nonstop activity," Philipp says. "Moderation is key, and when kids know they have a specific ‘treat time’ they’re less likely to think about candy at other times."
Brush & floss after eating candy
This is definitely common sense and was something we heard from all the dentists we spoke with, but of all nights to make sure your kids brush their teeth, Halloween should be at the top of the list.
Not only that, but Dr. Cody Hughes, a dentist and professor at the UNLV School of Dental Medicine, tells SheKnows that parents should really be brushing their kids' teeth until they reach the age of 8 or 9. "And even at that age, parents should supervise their children’s brushing habits," he adds.
So go on and celebrate Halloween with some candy, but don’t forget to drink plenty of water (it helps keep your mouth cleaner between brushings) and floss and brush regularly.