Trick or Treat for your Teeth

Dr. Rodriguez

Tips for Helping Your Child Prevent Cavities

hether you celebrate the holiday or not, there’s almost no escaping the cascade of seasonal candy that descends upon us every Halloween season. Warnings to avoid candy altogether will no doubt go unheeded, but moderation and good habits can allow children to partake in this sweet ritual without damaging their dental health. Claudia E. Rodriguez, certified DDS, American Board of Pediatric Dentistry, shares some vital tooth care information for parents to practice with their children. Parents can help their children pull smart choices from their trick-or-treat bag, but dental hygiene is a year-round endeavor to prevent painful dental problems in the future.

All Candy is Not Created Equal

Are you on doorbell duty this year? Consider not distributing some of the worst offenders against tooth enamel. “We need to stay away from the tamarindo, Takis, Pelucas, Warheads, chile powder. Anything that is very sour or acidic is terrible for the teeth, no matter what,” says Rodriguez. Acid penetrates into the tooth and erodes it from the inside out, so rinsing isn’t very effective against these candies. Making it worse, brushing immediately after coating teeth with these acids can actually scrape away enamel. The neighborhood children won’t miss these sour candies if parents instead choose chocolates or other sweets for the door-to-door collection.

“Anything that’s sweet is more superficial,” she says. “It goes on top of the tooth.” It can be rinsed away with water, so the sugars don’t have enough time with the bacteria on top of the tooth to cause a cavity. However, the time that it takes between eating the sugar and rinsing or brushing it away is where the magic lies. You have to “swish and spit,” according to Rodriguez, until that sugary feeling is gone. “Even I don’t walk around with a toothbrush in my purse, but I at least rinse out with water,” she says.

Dr. RodriguezTiming is Everything

A lollipop or jawbreaker could be in your mouth for a long time, and the sugar is taking negative effect that whole time. However, small candies that are chewed and swallowed (like Skittles) have less of an exposure time and are thus a better choice than long-lasting, solid sugar, hard candy. Even after these better choices, Rodriguez stresses the importance of brushing or rinsing. If you don’t have the chance to do this, sugar-free gum can help clean the teeth. It not only picks up the sugar, but stimulates saliva, the natural way our mouths wash our teeth. “Sugar-free is the only kind of gum you should be chewing, period,” she says.

The Name of the Game is Prevention

“We need to teach our parents, because the problem is not just candy – it’s how we’re exposing our children’s mouths to sugar,” says Rodriguez. “Babies don’t eat candy, but formula, milk, sports drinks, and juices all have gobs of sugar, too. We see children who are 3 or 4 years old and they have cavities because they’re drinking milk at night and nobody is cleaning their teeth.”

Nighttime brushing is vital. “If you don’t brush at night, you gave the sugar the entire day to sit on the tooth,” explains Rodriguez. Children should learn to brush with parental supervision until they have the coordination to do it safely on their own. That is typically around the same time that the child can write their name in cursive or tie their shoes.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children should have their first dental check-up six months after their first tooth or by the first birthday. “You don’t want to wait to go to the dentist until something’s wrong,” says Rodriguez, “especially if it’s a child’s first exposure to the dentist.” A child’s fear of the dental tools or the stranger wielding them could instead be a positive first experience if parents take their child to meet their dentist at a young age to become familiar with preventative dental care.

To schedule a visit with Dr. Rodriguez, call Lower Valley Dental Associates at (956) 350-0059.