With Halloween just around the corner, candy and sweet treats are everywhere. Although we know that sugary treats aren’t the best for our health — specifically, for the health of our teeth — we like to indulge anyway. This is totally fine as long as we’re smart about it. We all know that sugar is horrible for our pearly whites. But why?
Well, when you put food in your mouth, a few things happen. Your teeth do most of the physical work when chewing your food, but when you swallow it, there’s still residual food left in your mouth. These leftovers are broken down chemically by the bacteria and enzymes in your mouth. The byproducts of this process are different depending on what you eat. Sugary foods cause more acidity in your mouth, which is dangerous to your tooth enamel. Acids in general are pretty nasty, and will break down anything they come in contact with — including your teeth. That’s why you create more saliva when you eat, so that it can wash away the additional acid created by the bacteria in your mouth.
This is all well and good, but obviously you (like any normal human being) want to enjoy candy this Halloween. So what should we do to minimize this destructive process in our mouth?
First of all, the timing of when you eat sugar is really important. If you eat a sweet treat with your meal, or shortly after mealtime, you are less likely to retain the sugar-induced acid in your mouth. You produce more saliva during mealtimes, which helps to rinse away any excess acids caused by the decomposition of sugar. Along those same lines, staying away from sweet snacks throughout the day is important for the health of your teeth. If you are going to indulge in some Halloween candy, try to eat it all within a short time frame. The more candy you consume throughout the day, the more opportunities there are to create acidity in your mouth, and the more likely you are to get a cavity.
Second, not all candy is created equal. Hard candy is a huge culprit of cavities because they stay in your mouth for a prolonged amount of time. The length of time that sugary foods stay in your mouth has a direct correlation to the risk of tooth decay. The longer a food is in your mouth, the more opportunities it has to eat away at your teeth. Your saliva isn’t as efficient when removing sticky foods – such as taffy, gummy bears, or sugared gum – from your mouth, and it is often left on your teeth for a long amount of time, leading to cavities.
Third, drink plenty of water when you’re eating. The water will work with your saliva to help flush out your mouth. As an added bonus, drinking fluoridated water can actually help prevent tooth decay. Fluoride is an element that protects your tooth enamel, and fluoridation is just the process of adding fluoride to water for this very purpose. Look for bottled waters that are specifically fluoridated.
Fourth, chewing sugar-free gum is a great preventative measure for cavities. When you chew gum for 20 minutes after eating a meal (or binging on some Halloween candy), your excess saliva helps wash out any food stuck on your teeth and neutralize the acid produced in your mouth.
Just because sugar isn’t good for our teeth doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it during the Halloween season. As long as you’re careful about what and when you’re eating and make sure to take extra good care of your teeth during this time, you won’t have to worry too much about any unwanted cavities.