xx Thursday, October 28, 1999

Put the bite on cavities

Dental hygiene is a must in this sweet time of year

By SHELLY DECKER -- Edmonton Sun

Kids love treats. Just be sure that they brush their teeth more often in the days following Oct. 31. - SUN file photo
Go ahead and sink your teeth into Halloween's sweet treats, but be sure to follow a few tricks to keep your chompers healthy.

While most people might suspect the people who clean your teeth would frown on a day devoted to candy, dentists prove to be a realistic bunch.

"Kids are going to have it, so what the heck," says Edmonton dentist Lynn Doan. "Let them have most of the candies, but they should be instructed to clean their teeth more frequently during this period."

Improved dental health means this sugar-loaded gathering isn't as bad as it could be, says dentist John VandenBrink.

"I'm of the opinion it's Halloween and just go nuts. It's one time of the year," says VandenBrink. "I don't think it's a huge disaster. People are pretty good with hygiene and prevention nowadays."

While dentists can't stop kids from eating junk food, they have a few tips to help keep that smile beautiful.

With a few buying days left, these tooth specialists urge people to avoid giving hard or sticky treats such as jujubes or lollipops. (As well, parents may want to remove such snacks from their kids' bags.)

Remnants from soft and gooey candies can be difficult to remove, even with a toothbrush, warns Doan, who won't have trick or treaters because he lives on an acreage. His son and dental practice partner, Darrin, hand out a mix of toothbrushes and candy.

The Alberta Dental Association rates toffee as the worst sweet stuff. Besides being difficult to brush from teeth, its gooey stickiness can yank out fillings or crowns.

A few other tips:

  • Sticky or gummy candies are hard to scrub away and help create ripe conditions for cavities.

  • Sugarless gum is an excellent treat to hand out.

  • The City of Edmonton knows how to get kids' minds off candy. Howlin' Halloween Handouts are swim gift certificates that cost 25 cents each. The certificates are sold at all city leisure centres including the Kinsmen Sports Centre and are good until Nov. 30. Call 496-SWIM.

  • When sorting through your sweet loot, it's tough to just take pieces away. Replace undesirable candies with sugarless gum or trinkets.

  • Make sure kids brush teeth more often during this increased candy consumption period. If kids need help, especially with flossing, be sure to give them a hand. Brushing before bed is especially crucial.
  • "Sticky sweets are probably the worst - toffee, caramels, anything that wants to stay on the tooth a little longer," says dentist Richard Klippert, who will hand out sugarless gum to all the youngsters who come knocking at his door Sunday.

    The Alberta Dental Association rates toffee as the worst choice since it has the potential to pull out fillings or crowns. Some treats may even damage braces, adds Doan.

    VandenBrink usually gives out Smarties since it's believed chocolate isn't as hard on teeth as some other candies. Bars with soft gooey centres don't rate as well as solid chocolate. The mild, crunchy surface of Smarties doesn't stick to teeth like other choices.

    Dentists suggest limiting candy munching to meals, rather than spacing out several pieces through the day since time and bacteria are your teeth's biggest enemy.

    When sugar sits on the teeth, mouth bacteria can transform it into acid, which leads to cavities. The longer it sits on teeth, the more likely there will be problems.

    Saliva, which increases when you're eating a meal, helps wash the bacteria from the mouth.

    Chewing sugarless gum is a good alternative to help clean your mouth when you can't access a toothbrush.

    The crucial time to brush is before bed - and make sure your kids aren't munching on candy after lights out.

    Halloween shouldn't be the only time we pay attention to our teeth, advises Doan. Those who continually snack on sweet stuff face the biggest threat of cavities.

    "This little interval of time is peanuts," he says. "It's not a major thing. It's the continual uncleanliness with high sugar content over a long time, months. But for a week's period, they're not going to get a cavity."