Friday the 13th last week, full moon this week and Halloween comes next week. Superstitions, the illuminating Hunter’s Moon, cute and frightening costumes, jack-o-lanterns and trick-or-treating for lots of candy fill these beautiful, New England, autumn evenings.
Besides the usual precautions of safety around Halloween, caution should be heeded eating the bags and buckets of candy traditionally collected. Dental health, although historically separated from our basic health by insurance coverage, is so integral to one’s health. Dental insurance is available but does not cover near enough. Many, too many, forego dental care because they simply can’t afford it.
Like anything else in life, good choices and moderation with candy is essential. Too much candy is going to lead to dental decay. The bacteria in your mouth metabolizes sugar and creates an acidic environment. The acid erodes the enamel, making them more susceptible to decay. This also leads to increased sensitivity.
If a tooth has a cavity in it, it may be more sensitive to sweets. Candy can also cause damage to fillings and crowns. Teeth can crack. Sticky candy can pull out fillings. Often people wait until the tooth starts hurting weeks or months after it cracks, rather than getting it checked right away. By this time, more damage is done. Candy stuck in the gums can lead to gum infections and abscesses.
A recent report found the following candies to be the most harmful to teeth: jawbreakers, Jolly Ranchers, Bit-o-Honey, Starburst, Tootsie Rolls, Laffy Taffy, Snickers, Fireballs, Butterfingers, Milk Duds and Blow Pops.
Along with checking your child’s candy for harmful items or tampering to packages, experts suggest a few other tips for dental health. Eat candy after a meal, because the extra saliva is produced to break down food. They recommend eating candy over a half hour only. Repeated eating increases risk of cavities.
Interestingly, they do not recommend brushing immediately after, but waiting for 30 minutes after eating. Fluoride and toothpaste bind to the erosive areas of enamel and help stop the process. And then wait to eat for at least an hour. This is so the saliva can do its job of protecting our teeth and gums.
My childhood hails back to the days when some gave out fresh crispy apples, homemade cookies, homemade popcorn balls and baggies of other treats. In fact, we knew exactly who gave out what in our neighborhood. Safety issues put an end to these nostalgic Halloween traditions.
As time passes, it seems more dangers and precautions arise when our little ghosts, witches, princesses and pirates are out trick-or-treating. Protecting them and their dental health is a never-ending priority.
Have a safe and fun Samhain, Day of the Dead, All Soul’s Day or Halloween.
Take care of yourself or someone else.
Westfield Health Department staff and Board of Health members Juanita Carnes, FNP-BC, Carrie Hildreth-Fiordalice, LICSW, and Stan Strzempko, M.D., are dedicated to protecting the public health of this community and keeping you safe.
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