Yes, you can pay attention to dental care for children without giving out pencils and toothbrushes on Oct. 31. (Not all candy is created equal, for starters.)
A new survey targeting 5- to 13-year-olds found 94 percent of them trick or treat and 65 percent of them consider Halloween the best holiday of the year. Yet two thirds of the respondents agreed that they eat too much candy around that final day of October and 89 percent said they would still like the holiday if it were less about candy and more about other types of fun.
True, the Information Solutions Group conducted the Halloween survey for the understandably candy-averse American Dental Association (and videomaker PopCap Games). But still.
In the survey, kids said their three favorite Halloween activities were "trick-or-treating," "dressing up in costume," and, well, "getting lots of candy." A remarkable (to me, at least) 42 percent of the young respondents said they worried about developing cavities from indulging in their sugary loot.
To find out more about how to pass out treats that are least likely to cause tooth decay in your neighbors' children, FamilyGoesStrong talked with Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, a pediatric dentist in Augusta, Maine, and an American Dental Association spokesman who is promoting the Stop Zombie Mouth campaign. Excerpts:
What are some non-candy treats that kids actually like?
Sugar-free gum [for kids who know not to swallow it]. It stimulates saliva flow and removes debris off the teeth. Stickers are also good.
What if you (or your kids) really want to give out candy? What's best, from a dentist's point of view?
Make the candy as small as possible.
Won't that seem Scrooge-ish?
As long as kids see there's candy going in their bag, they'll be happy.
What type of treat is a dentist's worst nightmare?
When it comes to tooth decay, we're concerned about the type of sugar it is. Sticky or long-lasting candy [like caramel] is going to still linger on your teeth and be a problem. For us, it's the amount of time sugar remains in the mouth…The stickier the candy, the worse it is.
So what kind of candy do you recommend for people how want to give it out?
The best kind of candy is just plain milk chocolate. Chocolate clears the mouth really quickly.
But not chocolate with caramel, right?
Caramel, sometimes you find it stuck in your teeth and hour and a half later. In terms of the least evil sugar candy, that would be the least evil, and you wouldn't get rotten things thrown at your house!
And you don't like plastic fangs and super balls because they're potential choking hazards, right?
We have to be obsessive about the things we promote.
So why is sugar so terrible for teeth?
Every time you have a little bit of sugar in your mouth, the bacteria in your mouth eats the sugar and turns it into acid, and that acid eats away at your teeth. If you have lots of candy or juice throughout the day, then that causes your teeth to be constantly exposed to acids.
So it's better if kids eat their sugar all at once. What else are kids doing wrong?
Only 44 percent of kids brush their teeth twice a day. That's the only really effective way of reducing risk [of tooth decay] other than dietary changes.
What else should parents and grandparents know about teeth and trick-or-treating?
The average kid gets over 90 pieces of candy on Halloween. This is candy that in some cases can last weeks or a couple of months. That's where the concern is. Limit the number of times during the day that you expose your teeth to sugar.
Will you give out chocolate on Halloween?
I haven't decided. I don't want to be a party pooper. I've given out candy in the past, but I wouldn't want to admit to that!
So what's the bottom line on candy?
I have no problem with kids eating candy or eating sugar or drinking juice as long as it's considered a treat in their lives and not an everyday event and as long as they're brushing their teeth two times a day. If their lives are constantly filled with walking home with sugar-sweetened beverages and getting bad marks from the dentist, then this is an issue. We really are trying to educate about moderation and better health habits.
What do you hand out on Halloween?