Oral health experts long ago identified sugar as the monster behind tooth decay and cavities. If not removed by brushing or some other means, naturally occurring bacteria in the human mouth form a colorless, sticky film called plaque. Cavity-causing organisms within plaque feed on sugar and turn it into acid. This acid attacks tooth enamel and causes tooth decay.
But many common foods contain amounts of sugar at or above the amount in Halloween candy. These culprits can include breakfast items, snacks and drinks.
"To help keep teeth healthy, we need to be aware of what we eat and take care of them all year long, and not just worry about candy and Halloween," said Max Anderson, DDS, a national oral health advisor for Delta Dental Plans Association.
Popular Halloween treats include bite-sized chocolate-peanut-caramel bars, individually wrapped peanut butter cups and single servings of gummy bears. According to the nutrition facts printed on their packaging, the amount of sugar in these confections is 8.5 grams, 10 grams and 24 grams respectively.
When compared with the sugar content of common meals and snacks, these sugar levels might not be such a big departure from what children are eating on an occasional or regular basis.
According to nutritional information published by their manufacturers, a breakfast of two frozen waffles topped with syrup, and a glass of orange juice serves up approximately 65 grams of sugar. A packet of two frosted strawberry toaster pastries has 34 grams of sugar, while a fruit punch flavored juice box contains 24 grams of sugar. Suddenly Halloween candy doesn't look so scary. Besides, Halloween only occurs once a year. The sugars in everyday foods get a chance to feed the cavity-causing bacteria far more often.
Regardless of the source of sugar, the consistency of foods can also play a role in tooth decay. Sticky caramels and lollipops that children and adults have in their mouths for a long time expose teeth to sugars for longer than quickly eaten candy bars or breakfast items.
"Practicing good oral hygiene on a daily basis is far more important to preventing tooth decay than avoiding Halloween candy.
Flossing once and brushing at least twice daily, along with regular visits to the dentist and smart choices about nutrition, are the best methods for protecting teeth and gums," Anderson said.