Halloween is a fun and creative time of year when we get to see kids dress up and run around in costumes, and you get to make up your house spooky. While you are getting ready to carve your pumpkins, decorate your home, or make costumes for the kids, we would like to give you some dental tips for Halloween and keep all those precious teeth out there safe.
Understanding the Cavity Formula: Sugar + Bacteria
No matter what we do, we all carry some bacteria in our mouths. These bacteria are living, growing, eating, and reproducing. Most of these tiny oral bacteria are harmless—and even helpful. But some bacteria feed on the sugars from our food and drinks. As they feed, they produce acid in your mouth. Acid is what causes a cavity, a hole in your teeth.
Here is a simple graphic example:
And Then There is Plaque … and More!
The acid produced by the bacteria alone can cause cavities, but did you know the acid also helps the bacteria to make a sticky film called “plaque”? Bacteria love a warm, moist place to grow–the mouth is a perfect environment, especially when there is some left-behind food as they have food to grow fast. The more bacteria eating the food means more acid, which eats away the protective enamel of the tooth. Therefore, you must constantly remove plaque, so you won’t have cavities. Building plaque is how bacteria protect each other from being destroyed by your flossing and mouth rinse. Bacteria make a film by sticking to and stacking up on each other, with outer bacteria protecting the inner bacteria. Whatever the survived bacteria on the tooth surface continue to grow deeper and deeper into the gum pockets. Bacteria in the gum pockets are no longer removed by brushing or flossing. Therefore, it is important to have your teeth cleaned professionally, as plaque below the gumline is very hard to remove.
Survived bacteria’s acid melts the tooth enamel and causes cavities. If you remove bacteria and plaque regularly, you can prevent cavities. However, if you didn’t remove them, you will have an even bigger problem – if plaque stays on your teeth it becomes harder and turns into “tartar”. Tartar is much harder than plaque. It is a hard shelter-like home for the bacteria that is made of dead, unremoved bacteria. Think of this tartar as a building that bacteria live, being protected by hard shell of mineral deposits on the teeth. Tartar can form at and below the gum line and infect the gums. Many people don’t realize that most plaque, if not removed, hardens to become tartar in less than 2-3 days. Within several days it will become so hard that it cannot be removed without professional cleaning from a dental hygienist.
But What if You Can’t Escape Candy During Halloween?
Of course, there is going to be an abundance of candy around during Halloween time. Many businesses put bowls of candy out for customers, we have Halloween parties, and we buy it and hand it out to trick-or-treaters (not to mention the leftover candy that sits around your house when Halloween is over). So, it is hard to escape candy during this time of year. If you can’t avoid the candy, consider such sweets as special treats: Enjoy it in moderation and follow our dental tips below.
Trick-or-Treaters Need Special Home Care on Halloween—How to:
- Brush your teeth BEFORE and after enjoying Halloween sweets. Remember the formula? The tooth will not decay if there is only sugar. The tooth decays because of acid, a byproduct of bacterial eating sugar. So, avoid eating sugary food if you haven’t removed the bacteria in the mouth. This method (brush & floss before eating) also works well if you take a long trip where you snack frequently without being able to brush right away. Brush & floss before starting the trip (or trick-or-treating). Start your sweet/snack time with clean teeth & gums. The clean mouth with only few bacteria means much less acid, even with the presence of sugar. For the same reason, the cleaner the mouth is at night before bedtime, the less bacteria growing, and the less acid. Less acid = less chance of cavities
- Everyone also brushes in the morning because at night, the warm, dark, moist mouth becomes the perfect place for bacteria to grow fast. Brushing first thing in the morning will help eliminate those bacteria that grew overnight and start them out with a nice clean and fresh mouth.
- If you have little ones, supervise (help) their brushing and flossing until you know they are doing it correctly. It is important for children to see their parents brushing and flossing every day. Children learn by seeing and copying their parents’ routine care. Instead of saying, “Brush your teeth” say, “Brush your teeth AND GUMS”. Remember, plaque (then tartar) grows at the gum line, then continue into deeper gum pockets. Many children and adults alike miss brushing the gum line. The Best Three to brush in the mouth are: (1) teeth, (2) gums, and (3) tongue!
- Teach your children to enjoy Halloween candy at home, where you can inspect the sweets and help them brush and floss. ***Be aware of some incidences relating to Fentanyl; Please read to protect your children (you can click on the link here): “DEA Warns of Brightly-colored Fentanyl Used to Target Young Americans”.
- If possible, avoid having them eat candies that are sticky or chewy. These candies have a higher chance of leaving candy particles on and between the teeth that can be missed when they are flossing or brushing.
- Some parents like to find substitutions for the candy to give their kids instead. For example, they let their kids sell their treats to them, so the kids understand the benefit of giving up some of their candies. They can use their money to buy a toy they want instead.
Candies to Avoid
- Hard candy
- Chewy candy
- “Licorice” (artificial ones)
- Sour candy
- “Sugar-free” candy (harmful for gut & general health)
Although we all know eating sugar is unhealthy, it’s hard to skip Halloween fun. Consider Halloween as a perfect time to emphasize with children good home care and set a good example by taking care of your own teeth & gums. And make sure to keep your family’s regular dental visits so we can do our part to keep everyone’s teeth healthy. Please contact us to schedule an appointment for you or any member of your family.
Dr. Manami Yamaguchi
Dental Arts & Wellness