Halloween is a time of ghosts, witches and ghouls, but this year a UK dental charity is reminding parents how traditions such as trick or treating can increase risks of damage to their children’s teeth.
After an evening of trick or treating, children are likely to return home with a goody bag full of sweets and sugary foods. Although this is exciting for children, parents need to be aware of the risk of tooth decay.
The British Dental Health Foundation’s chief executive, Dr Nigel Carter, explains that it is better for children to eat sugary foods all together, rather than to spread eating them out over a few hours.
He says: ‘We want children to enjoy themselves at Halloween. The trick is to find a middle ground – not to gorge on sweets for hours.’
With Bonfire night also only around the corner, and all the food delights that come with it, the Foundation emphasises that everything is OK in moderation.
Dr Carter says: ‘It’s OK to have the odd sugary treat on a special occasion as long as children keep up their regular dental health routine. On a daily basis, it is important that children have a healthy balanced diet, with five portions of fruit and vegetables. This combined with a good dental cleaning routine with fluoride toothpaste will help protect the teeth against conditions such as tooth decay and gum disease.’
Dr Carter adds: ‘Each time a sugary food or drink is consumed the sugar reacts with the bacteria in plaque (the sticky coating on the teeth) and produces harmful acids. These acids attack the teeth and dissolve the protective enamel coating on the teeth, which after many such attacks can lead to a cavity (a hole) forming in the tooth and eventually a need for a filling or extraction – something every parent would want their child to avoid.
‘The key thing for parents to remember is that it is how often sugar is consumed, rather than how much sugar, which affects the chance of decay. It takes the saliva in the mouth up to an hour to neutralise the acid. This means every time sugary foods or drinks are consumed, the teeth are under attack for an hour. If children are constantly snacking on sweet foods, their teeth never have a chance to recover completely.’
Substituting sweets for crisps or other carbohydrate snacks won’t stop the risk of cavities either. These can also create an acid environment in the mouth and lead to cavities. Instead, parents can give out healthy snacks such as fruit or breadsticks or even small toys to ‘trick or treaters’.
The Foundation suggests offering sugar-free sweets and avoiding giving out sticky, sweets such as toffee that stick to the teeth and give the bacteria a longer time in which to attack.
For parents with any concerns about their child’s dental health, the National Dental Helpline (0845 063 1188) is available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. The helpline is staffed by fully qualified dental experts who offer free, confidential and impartial advice on all dental health topics from diet to preventive care to dental decay.