Dr. Linda Vidone is a dentist in Brookline and the dental director for Delta Dental of Massachusetts. She knows that kids dig into the candy this time of year, and she offers some of advice for parents.
Q. As a dentist, do you just shake your head every Halloween as you think about children devouring so much candy?
A. No. I think it’s a great time and it’s a good opportunity to start talking about teeth and what’s good for teeth and promote oral health. I love how we get so much attention at Halloween.
Q. Are all candies created equal when it comes to potential damage to teeth?
A. Oh no, no no.
Q. Which candy is the most harmful and why? Which candy is least harmful and why?
A. Sticky candies, the caramels — those are really the worst. That’s what you really want to avoid. The gummy bears, the Starburst. You want to stick with, ideally, sugar-free candy, chocolate, even, because it dissolves quickly. The chewy candies, what happens is the sugar gets in the grooves of the teeth and it kind of stays there. The longer the sugar remains on the tooth, the more potential decay can occur.
Q. Is this a good time of year to schedule a cleaning?
A. Absolutely. It’s a good time to really reevaluate a child’s teeth. That’s why we love this time of year. Sometimes it jogs a parent’s memory.
Q. According to a Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health survey, 80 percent of parents eat their children’s Halloween candy. So what is your message to parents about their own teeth?
A. You have to practice what you preach. If you are going to tell your children [to snack] in moderation, you have to do the same.
Q. Do you give out candy on Halloween?
A. Everybody always asks me as a dentist, “C’mon, what do you give out?” Personally, I give out toothbrushes, little samples of toothpaste, coloring books, stickers. My friends say, “Oh the kids must hate going to your place.” But, you know, they really don’t. This year we’re giving away SpongeBob SquarePants toothbrushes.
Least harmful candy for teeth
Sugar-free candy and gum with xylitol: Sugar-free foods are void of sugar that feed on bacteria in the mouth and produce decay-causing acids. Choose gum with xylitol and it can actually counterattack the acid formation that causes decay.
Powdery candy: The texture of powdery candy is what makes it less harmful. It dissolves quickly, which prevents the sugar from sticking to teeth and producing acids and bacteria.
Chocolate: Chocolate dissolves quickly in your mouth, which means sugar has less contact with your teeth. Also, calcium in chocolate can potentially help protect tooth enamel. But beware of chocolate filled with caramel or nuts, which can be harmful for teeth because it is harder to chew.
Hard candy: Hard candy such as mints or lollipops are tough on teeth because of the way they are sucked on at a leisurely pace. This means the candy coats your teeth with sugar. Also, biting down on hard candy can chip or break teeth.
Chewy candy: Candy such as caramels or gummies are particularly damaging because they are high in sugar and spend a prolonged amount of time stuck to teeth. They are also more difficult for saliva to break down.