By Stephanie Choate
Parents may cringe at the thought of a plastic pumpkin full of sugary candies laying around the house on Nov. 1, waiting to corrode their kids’ teeth, but good oral hygiene habits can offset the influx of sugar.
“What I tell my patients is if you reduce the total number of bacteria in the mouth, the effects of the sweets will be far less devastating,” said Dr. Albert St. Amand of Williston-based Associates in Comprehensive Dental Care.
A clean mouth—one that is brushed and flossed regularly—harbors fewer bacteria that survive on sugar.
As bacteria metabolize the sugar, St. Amand said, they produce an acid that decalcifies enamel on teeth. In a normal mouth, saliva dilutes the acid, but in a mouth with poor oral hygiene, there are more bacteria, and therefore more acid.
“The child that constantly has candy in their mouth is far more at risk than the one that overindulges in the Halloween period,” he said.
“Their stomach will give out before their teeth will,” he added, laughing.
More concerning, St. Amand said, is sugar and refined carbohydrates consumed constantly over a long period of time, such as sugary drinks, sweetened gum and chips. Sticky snacks like raisins, too, are loaded with sugar that easily gets stuck between teeth.
“It’s the long-term period that’s a bigger problem than the short-term night or two of binging,” he said.
If parents are still concerned, they should avoid sticky candy that will be in the child’s mouth for a long period of time—such as caramel or hard candies—and choose treats that are gone more quickly.
Parents, especially those with children under age 8, should floss their children’s teeth daily, and should brush their teeth a minimum of twice a day, since children eat more frequently than adults, St. Amand said.