Tooth decay affects at least 5 million children of preschool age, a number that has risen by 600,000 in the past decade, according to Parents magazine. With Halloween just around the corner — and all the candy that goes along with it — now is the perfect time to devise a plan to reduce the assault waged by all that chewy, sticky sweetness.
Tooth decay — and the cavities that result — are actually caused by a specific bacterium: streptococcus mutans. While families do not pass along a tendency for “soft” teeth, they do pass down the bacterium itself, which leads to tooth decay and tends to make people think tooth decay is hereditary. Generally a mother passes the bacterium from her mouth to her child’s before the child reaches the age of 2, according to Parents magazine. The role that candy plays, however, is in providing the sugar that the bacterium feeds on. The bacterium then produces acid that depletes calcium and breaks down the structure of teeth.
Make oral health fun
Halloween brings loads of fun for children, but you can also offer fun activities that remind them about good dental care. Kool Smiles has a number of activity sheets available to download that make learning about oral hygiene fun. You can also download an app, such as Kids’ Dental Health: Educational Interactive Book with Games for Kids, available for $10 for the iOS platform, to engage children in activities that remind them how to take proper care of their teeth.
Be smart about candy
While it might seem smart to avoid candy altogether, your child will likely want candy more once it is forbidden. Instead, follow a few tips to minimize its harmful impacts:
- Not all candy is created equal when it comes to your child’s teeth. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the two worst categories of candy are hard candies and sticky candies. These include suckers as well as various wrapped pieces, fruit chews, gummy bears, taffy, caramels and similar sweets. Hard candies stay in your child’s mouth a long time, increasing exposure to acid. Sticky candies are difficult to wash away with saliva, so their assault on teeth continues long after the candy is consumed.
- Better choices that still provide your child with a treat include sugarless versions and chewing gum carrying the ADA seal.
- Surprisingly chocolate is not a bad choice either, as long as it is not chocolate-covered caramel. A study at Osaka University in Japan found that chocolate’s main ingredient — the cocoa bean — actually slows mouth bacteria growth, reducing the chance of tooth decay.
- Have your child choose 10 to 12 pieces of candy that are their favourites. Remove the rest, and freeze it for later distribution.
Practice good dental care
Once Halloween is over, it’s still important to keep the focus on proper care of your child’s teeth. In addition to regular checkups, be sure your child is brushing twice a day and using an ADA-approved toothpaste. Also, teach your child to floss. Avoid giving your child sugary drinks. Instead, choose fluoridated water to help wash away sugars and starches between brushings. Continue to enjoy the fun activity sheets and dental health apps with your child as reminders of the importance of good dental health.