For some parents, Halloween is one of their favorite days of the year. It is an opportunity to dress children up and go door to door entertaining neighbors with costumes and collecting pumpkins full of candy. For other parents, the thought of loading children up with sugar-filled treats is a nightmare.
While University of Alabama at Birmingham pediatric dentist John Ruby, DMD, encourages parents to let their little ghouls, goblins and superheroes have their night, he points out that some candies could be worse than others.
“If there is something parents might want to consider avoiding, it would be sour candies,” said Ruby, an associate professor in the UAB School of Dentistry. “They are a double hit. You get tooth decay with the sugar, and the high concentrations of acid used to make them sour also erode teeth.”
Of course, Ruby says, dental decay is a chronic disease that happens over a long period of time and is the result of constant exposure to sugary treats. A pack or two of sour gummies on Halloween alone is not going to cause long-term problems.
“Eating candy and sweets is more of a problem when you do it every day of the year,” Ruby said. “Indulging on special occasions — Halloween, Easter, Christmas and birthdays — is not going to ruin your teeth. If everyone ate candy just three or four days each year on special occasions, we wouldn’t have a problem with cavities.”
Ruby and other UAB experts have several tips for parents to consider this Halloween.
- “It is important that parents not let overindulgence in candy become a learned behavior,” said Donna Arnett, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Epidemiology in the UAB School of Public Health. “Though Halloween alone is not going to be a major overall contributor to our children’s health, any behaviors they learn can have an effect.”
- Consider giving out noncandy treats. Arnett suggests glow sticks, stickers, temporary tattoos, sugar-free gum, sticky hands, play dough, bubbles or quarters.
- If trick-or-treating is a must, turn it into an exercise game with fun gadgetry. Walking is an aerobic exercise that benefits the heart. Have kids wear a pedometer, and make a contest out of who takes the most steps. “Considering how much many kids love technology and competition, counting steps could get them some heart-healthy exercise as well as fun,” Arnett said.
- Once the candy comes home, parents should hold onto it and ration it to their children.
- If your child has diabetes, he or she does not have to skip the day. Kenneth McCormick, M.D., pediatric endocrinologist and senior scientist in the UAB Comprehensive Diabetes Center, says diabetics can enjoy sweets the holiday offers, within reason. He says counting carbs, exchanging candy or saving the sweet treats for after dinner are options. “By incorporating a sugary treat into mealtime, when a child would normally get a dose of insulin, it eliminates the need for adding doses to their regimen,” McCormick said.
For optimal dental health beyond Halloween, Ruby recommends healthy snacks and beverages. Fruits like apples, grapes and bananas, vegetables like carrots or celery with peanut butter, and dairy like cheese or plain yogurt with fruit are all excellent snack choices. Beverages should primarily be water or white milk with only one glass of juice per day; eliminate soft drinks.
Of course, Ruby says to remember to help your kids brush and floss their teeth each night before they go to bed.