Brain and Body

Binge, Don’t Hoard Your Halloween Candy, Dentist Advises

November 2, 2015 | Reece Alvarez

Halloween candies and chocolate bars
Photo credit: Luke Jones/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Here are some tips for avoiding cavities while devouring those hoards of Halloween candies.

For many, particularly children, the first question after Halloween is: do I eat all of this candy now, or squirrel it away for snacks throughout the long, cold winter?

If your instinct tells you to dive right in and gorge yourself on the bite-sized buffet of chocolate treats, Temple University pediatric dentist Mark Helpin thinks that might not be such a bad idea — when it comes to cavities at least.

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"The frequency of eating candy, and other refined carbohydrates, and their stickiness, are big factors in creating the risk of caries (cavities)," he said.

According to the university, eating carbohydrates can change the pH balance of the mouth, making it more acidic, which can increase the risk of cavities. Each time candy is eaten, the acid environment in the mouth can take up to an hour to dissipate.

"If I eat a piece of candy now, the pH in my mouth will become acidic, and it will take 30-60 minutes for it to become normal," said Helpin. "If I eat two or three pieces of candy when I eat that first one, my mouth stays acidic the same length of time that it would if I ate just that single piece. It's still 30-60 minutes. If I keep eating candy throughout the day, there is acid in my mouth for a much longer period of time. The longer teeth are in an acid environment, the greater the risk they will become decayed."

Helpin, the acting chair of pediatric dentistry at Temple's Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry, recommends enjoying candy in bunches quickly rather than spread out over long periods of time, and he offers a number of recommendations for how to reduce the possibility of causing cavities.

Meals are a good time to have treats because the production of saliva increases, which helps to wash away acidity in the mouth, he said. He also recommends that people brush their teeth after eating candy, or if that's not possible, rinsing their mouth with water three or four times after eating will help reduce acidity in the mouth.

While some choose to subtly protest Halloween by substituting small bags of chips or pretzels for sugary candy, Helpin warns that those treats don't solve the cavity problem, either.

"Chips and pretzels are also carbohydrates and they also will create an acid environment that can create cavities," he said. "These treats and snacks get stuck on your teeth, and that's the stickiness factor," he said.

When trick-or-treaters come to his door, Helpin said he likes to give out sugar-free candies, and avoids the sticky, gummy candies, which stick to the teeth promote cavities because they allow bacteria "to feed" for a longer time.

Based on materials provided by Temple University.

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