Doesn’t it seem that every holiday brings with it a plethora of sweets? Halloween is all about candy; the winter holidays bring chocolate coins and candy canes; and the spring holidays inevitably result in basketsful of chocolates and other sweet goodies. What’s a parent to do?
We both know it’s impossible to keep the kiddos from enjoying sweets—not only at holiday time but during the week as well. To that end, I’ve created this guide to help you focus on the treats that are the least damaging to your child’s teeth!
How Does Sugar Damage Teeth?
About 90% of all foods have sugars that hook up with the bacteria present on teeth to create acids that eat at the dental enamel. Remarkably, this can happen within 20 minutes! The longer that sugars are permitted to exist on the teeth, the more damage can result.
How Can Parents Limit Sugar-Related Dental Damage?
- I recommend that you allow your child to eat a reasonable amount of candy “at one sitting,” rather than parsing it out over several hours, to minimize the repeated exposure of sugar on the teeth.
- Eat candy at the end of a meal. This is another trick to spare your child’s teeth—and it will mean eating less candy because your child’s tummy will already be full!
- Eat tooth-cleansing foods after candy: apples, celery and carrots increase saliva, which helps to wash away the sugars. Their crunchy texture also helps to scrub away bacteria and tiny bits of candy that might be stuck between the teeth. An alternative is to eat hard cheese, like cheddar, after eating candy. Cheese (not American—real cheese!) actually increases the pH in the mouth, which helps prevent cavities.
- Wait 30-45 minutes after eating sweets before you brush your child’s teeth. I realize this seems wrong but, in actuality, brushing in the presence of all that acid is like scouring the teeth with a Brillo pad!
The Worst Sweets for Teeth:
- Sticky treats require lots of chewing, allowing the sticky sweetness to literally bathe the teeth in acid-promoting sugars. Avoid caramels, suckers, gummy bears and similar candies.
- Hard candies not only dissolve slowly, releasing sugar into the teeth over an extended period of time, but they can also chip or crack the teeth.
The Best Sweets for Teeth:
- Keep in mind that dark chocolate has less sugar than milk chocolate.
- Sugar-free candy or gum is a good option, particularly when sweetened with Xylitol, which has virtually no after-taste and is just as sweet as sugar.
- Obviously, fruits like grapes and clementines are great little treats. I know you won’t hand those out at Halloween time or put into a child’s Christmas stocking, but they’re great to take the a school party as an alternative to a sugary treat.
I hope you enjoy whatever holiday is coming up—and that includes the traditional sweets! Just remember to brush & floss your little one’s teeth that evening before bed!