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The Hidden Opportunity Behind Halloween Candy Consumption

6672032363_3037d7221e_oHalloween is right around the corner! For health-conscious parents, this holiday truly does contain both tricks and treats: we want to see our children bask in the fun activities, and we hate to see them gorge themselves on sweets that we know are bad for their small smiles!

At Dr. Lori Lemire’s clinic, we get it. We’re parents too, and we’ve struggled with the Halloween battle just the same as you. Because we are dental health professionals, you might expect a hard-line stance on Halloween candy, but really our approach to Halloween and fun holidays in general is moderation. In fact, we see Halloween as an opportunity for our small patients to learn about and take charge of their oral health. Together with parents, our patients are pretty good at making healthy decisions!

It starts with education

Halloween is a great chance to explain to, or remind, your child why you are concerned about excess sugar intake. He or she may want to know, what’s so bad about candy, anyway? That’s a fair question.

The problem with candy, and sugar in general (including the tacky sugars in high carbohydrate foods like pretzels and crackers that stick to teeth long after the snack is finished), is that sugar feeds bacteria in your mouth. When the bacteria eat the sugar, their metabolic bioproduct is an acid. That acid eats away at the enamel on our teeth, which, with enough exposure, is what causes cavities.

Make a plan with your child

Once your child has a better grasp on the effect of sugar on his or her oral health, make a plan together. Tell your child that you want Halloween to be fun, but you’re concerned about eating too much candy, and find an approach to candy consumption that works for your family. Here are some ideas that we’ve seen work with our patients:

  • The Candy Buy-out: You “buy” your child’s candy loot from him or her, in exchange for cold hard cash, a toy, privileges, or other desirable. Note: be prepared to up the anty and offer above the street value of her five cent jolly ranchers; kids can drive a pretty hard bargain.
  • Candy Consumption Editing: Limit your child’s candy to a number that you both agree upon and ask them to select that number– and that number only!– to be consumed. Then take the rest and throw it away. If that’s too heart-breaking, freeze the additional candy until a later date.
  • Candy Consumption Editing Part Deux: You can also limit the type of candy your child eats. Sticky, tacky candy like carmel, or hard candy that is sucked on for long periods of time– those are the worst. Candy that melts, like chocolate, or is swiftly consumed, like pixie sticks, are the “healthiest” options. Check out our blog post from last year on the best and worst candy for teeth.
  • The Most Popular: Agree that your child may eat all their candy but only one piece a day, and set a particular time at which they may eat their daily candy (or once every two days, etc). After school, paired with a healthy snack, can be a good compromise. This option also provides an opportunity to practice oral hygiene— like brushing right afterwards– not just around the Halloween holiday, but daily… probably for months (when eaten just once a day, Halloween candy has been known to last a long time).

Finally, more education

It always ends with brushing and flossing, doesn’t it? By creating a “candy compromise” with with your child, you’re also providing an environment for them to take charge of their own oral health by brushing and flossing after candy consumption, and deciding on a good plan of moderation between something sweet and healthy teeth.

These are skills that will help them later in life as well; when there are no parents around to lay down the law about candy consumption, your child will have learned a healthy approach to moderation. Thanks, Halloween!

Do you have any healthy Halloween tips?

Be sure to bring them with you to your next appointment with Dr. Lemire, your favorite Coos Bay dentist. And if you want, wear your costume!

Photo Credit: lasmadrinas via Compfight cc

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