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The Season of Candy

Well, we’re about there again. The Season of Candy has started. It begins with Halloween, and ends with New Year’s. I’m talking about young people more than anyone else because candy seems to be the excess of choice for the under 18 crowd this time of year.

My littlest one is still at home, and she managed to collect 273 pieces of candy on Halloween night. Does this have to be a bad thing, or is there something you can do to reduce the effects of high sugar intake at this time of year for your little ones?

You might remember that tooth decay is not caused by sugar directly, but by bacteria on your teeth (dental plaque—the soft white stuff you can scrape off your teeth) eating the sugar and putting out a weak acid. This acid slowly dissolves the minerals that make up your teeth leaving behind sticky protein. This is tooth decay. The only way to save a tooth after its surface has been dissolved like this is to amputate the affected portion of the tooth and replace it with plastic, metal, or porcelain. When dental plaque is scraped off the surface of a tooth, the plaque is unable to put out acid until it can reattach to a hard surface like a tooth again. This can take several or many hours. So the dental plaque is effectively inactivated when it is removed from the surface of the tooth. This is what is done when a person brushes and flosses. The bacteria that make up dental plaque grows fastest on sugar, but will eat anything a person eats. When a person leaves remnants of food in his mouth, the dental plaque keeps right on eating for at least twenty minutes after the food is swallowed. So you can see that the best thing to do to prevent tooth decay is to brush and floss after eating and when plaque accumulates like before bed and after waking up in the morning.

The amount of damage done by candy is not nearly as dependent on the volume of sugar as the amount of time there is a high sugar content in the saliva. What I am saying is that for your teeth, it is better, far better, to eat three candy bars as quickly as you can than it is to eat half a candy bar every two hours throughout the day. And the worst thing a person can do is to eat something with high sugar content just before bed at night and not brush it off before falling asleep. The worst case scenario for a large volume of candy doing damage to the teeth is to eat it a couple of times a day for many months, and then have junior sneak something from the Halloween bag under his bed after lights out every night. Such a scenario is certain to produce cavities. Far less damage will occur if the candy is consumed (even in large quantities) all at once and the teeth are brushed right afterwards. It is best if there is no secret stock of candy available after the teeth are brushed.

My dad (who was also my dentist) used to go trick or treating with us every Halloween dressed as Dracula. He had made himself his own set of false teeth with hideous fangs for his costume. We were then allowed to eat as much candy as we wanted for a week. At the end of the week, we had to sell our candy to dad for $1 per pound. We often made over $20 each from our stash of Halloween candy. After he bought our candy, he took it to the dental school where he worked and deposited it into the incinerator himself, thus keeping the janitor from destroying his teeth with our Halloween candy.

If you provide some control over the candy stash your young ones have this time of year, you should be able to let them have what they want, but minimize or even eliminate the damage the candy can do to the teeth. Ask your dentist about strategies to reduce the chances of cavities in your children’s teeth.

- This article was written by Dr. Mike Christensen and published in the Daily Miner and News, and Enterprise. Local Kenora News Publicatons (1998-2006)

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