Halloween: A Scary Time for Healthy Teeth

After an evening of trick or treating, children are likely to return home with a goody bag full of sweets and sugary foods. Although this is exciting for children, parents need to be aware of the risk of tooth decay.

The British Dental Health Foundation’s Chief Executive, Dr Nigel Carter, explains that it is better for children to eat sugary foods all together, rather than to spread eating them out over a few hours.

Dr Carter said: “We want children to enjoy themselves at Halloween. The trick is to find a middle ground – not to gorge on sweets for hours.”

With Bonfire night also only around the corner, and all the food delights that come with it, the Foundation emphasises that everything is OK in moderation.

Dr Carter said: “It’s OK to have the odd sugary treat on a special occasion as long as children keep up their regular dental health routine. On a daily basis, it is important that children have a healthy balanced diet, with five portions of fruit and vegetables. This combined with a good dental cleaning routine with fluoride toothpaste will help protect the teeth against conditions such as tooth decay and gum disease.”

Dr Carter added: “Each time a sugary food or drink is consumed the sugar reacts with the bacteria in plaque (the sticky coating on the teeth) and produces harmful acids. These acids attack the teeth and dissolve the protective enamel coating on the teeth, which after many such attacks can lead to a cavity (a hole) forming in the tooth and eventually a need for a filling or extraction – something every parent would want their child to avoid.

“The key thing for parents to remember is that it is how often sugar is consumed, rather than how much sugar, which affects the chance of decay. It takes the saliva in the mouth up to an hour to neutralise the acid. This means every time sugary foods or drinks are consumed, the teeth are under attack for an hour. If children are constantly snacking on sweet foods, their teeth never have a chance to recover completely.”

For this reason, the Foundation advises parents to limit their children’s sugar intake to three meals and two snacks a day. When possible sweet treats should be eaten at mealtimes, during meals extra saliva is produced and this can help rinse away extra sugars and bacteria.

Substituting sweets for crisps or other carbohydrate snacks won’t stop the risk of cavities either. These can also create an acid environment in the mouth and lead to cavities. Instead, parents can give out healthy snacks such as fruit or breadsticks or even small toys to ‘Trick or Treaters’.

The Foundation suggests offering sugar–free sweets and avoiding giving out sticky, sweets such as toffee that stick to the teeth and give the bacteria a longer time in which to attack.

For parents with any concerns about their child’s dental health, the National Dental Helpline (0845 063 1188) is available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. The helpline is staffed by fully qualified dental experts who offer free, confidential and impartial advice on all dental health topics from diet to preventive care to dental decay. The helpline can also be contacted by email at [email protected] Further information is also available on the Foundation website at www.dentalhealth.org.


Editor’s Notes

For further information please contact the Foundation’s Press Office on [email protected] or 01788 539 792.

Cleaning the teeth thoroughly is also a vital part of good oral health–care, and can help protect children’s teeth from the risk sugary treats pose. Parents should ensure their children brush their teeth first thing in the morning and last thing at night for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste. A toothbrush with a small, soft head on it and a pea–sized blob of fluoride toothpaste is best. For children up to the age of three a toothpaste with a fluoride level of at least 1000ppm (parts per million) is recommended, children over the age of three should use toothpaste that contains 1350–1500ppm. The Foundation also suggests parents supervise children, up to the age of six, while they are brushing their teeth, and check that their children spit out any toothpaste and do not swallow any if possible.

Regular visits to a dentist are also important to maintain healthy teeth and gums. Parents should take children as often as their dentist recommends.

The British Dental Health Foundation is the UK’s leading oral health charity, with a 39–year track record of providing public information and influencing government policy. It maintains a free consumer advice service, an impartial and objective product accreditation scheme, publishes and distributes a wide range of literature for the profession and consumers, and runs National Smile Month each May, to promote greater awareness of the benefits of better oral health, and Mouth Cancer Action month each November.

The Dental Helpline, which offers free impartial advice to consumers, can be contacted on 0845 063 1188 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. Alternatively, they can be contacted by email on [email protected]

A series of ‘Tell Me About…’ leaflets covering topics such as caring for my teeth, finding a dentist and diet are also available.
The Foundation’s website can be found at www.dentalhealth.org.

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