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Expert Alert

Be gentle to your teeth on Halloween, U of M expert says

October 26, 2011

Next Monday, children across the country will dress up in costumes and partake in the annual Halloween festivity of trick-or-treating. Gathering anywhere from dozens to hundreds of pieces of candy, they’ll have more than their fill of sweets. And while dentists will tell you that an occasional sweet can be a special treat, they’ll also be the first to remind that frequent snacking on sweets may contribute to a child’s poor dental health.

A University of Minnesota expert who can discuss the effects of candy on teeth, how you get cavities and what parents can do to promote tooth friendly candy consumption is:

Dr. Daniel Shaw, pediatric dentist and clinical associate professor in the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry

Sugar in our food – including sweets -- interacts with naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth to produce acid. This acid attacks the teeth, demineralizing the teeth, which is the first step in the decay process. 

With each subsequent exposure to sugar, the acid attack begins again. Ongoing snacking on sweets and/or long term exposure to sugar (i.e. sticky candy or hard candy that dissolves in the mouth over long periods of time) results in repetitive and prolonged acid attacks. 

“Halloween is a fun holiday,” said Shaw. “So the issue becomes: what can we do to allow kids to have their fun and still help them protect their oral health?”

Shaw recommends a variety of ways to help control candy intake during Halloween. Depending on the family, if the child is old enough, parents may consider a “buy-back” situation, where they collect the child’s candy for a small amount of money. It may be beneficial if the child is saving for a new bike or toy.

Another idea is to try to limit candy consumption it to a specific period of time. For instance, the child can eat whatever candy he/she wants for 10 minutes, and then be done for the night. Or, the child can pick one or two pieces of candy each day, and enjoy it in moderation until the collection runs dry.

Dividing candy among family members may also be a good solution.

While the sweets may contribute to demineralization, Shaw says that proper dental hygiene may help re-mineralize teeth. For children over the age of three, he recommends brushing their teeth with toothpaste that contains fluoride to help re-harden the enamel. 

Dr. Shaw is available for media interviews Wednesday, Oct. 26. To schedule an interview, contact Emily Jensen, (612) 624-9163, jense888@umn.edu, or Kelly O’Connor, (612) 624-5680, oconn246@umn.edu.

Expert Alert is a service provided by the University News Service. Delivered regularly, Expert Alert is designed to connect university experts to today's breaking news and current events. For an archive and other useful media services, visit www.unews.umn.edu. Views expressed by experts do not represent the views of the University of Minnesota.

Tags: Academic Health Center

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