A dentist shares five tricks for managing treats.

Dr. Apoena Ribeiro is a pediatric dentist and microbiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She’s also a parent.

When her daughter was little and growing up in Brazil, Dr. Ribeiro encouraged her to enjoy a holiday called the Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian, which involves children collecting large bags of candy. But she also had some strategies for keeping the dental dangers at bay. Here’s what she did back then, and still does today, to protect her family’s oral health on a candy-laden holiday.

She minimizes grazing

One sugar-filled night won’t sabotage your oral health, Dr. Ribeiro said — so when her daughter was young, she allowed her to collect and enjoy as much candy as she wanted on sweet-heavy holidays.

Once she’d had her fill, Dr. Ribeiro would ask her daughter to sort her candy into two piles: One for her favorites, which she called her “treasures,” and another for the rejects, which they would donate.

The “treasures” would be stashed away in a cardboard “treasure box” that could only be opened once or twice a week (though once per day is also OK, Dr. Ribeiro said). When the box was open, her daughter could eat as much candy as she wanted. But once she was done eating and it was closed, she would be cut off from the candy until the box was opened again. Then it was time to brush her teeth.

These rules prevented Dr. Ribeiro’s daughter from grazing on candy throughout the day, which could give the cavity-causing bacteria in her mouth more opportunities to feed on sugars and create an environment that could lead to tooth decay. “Free access to the candy is the main problem,” Dr. Ribeiro said.

But if the bacteria can only consume the sugar once a day or once every few days, “they will starve,” she said.

She times candy eating with meals

The best time to have candy is with or just after a meal, Dr. Ribeiro said. At that point, the bacteria in your mouth may have already filled up on any carbohydrates from the meal, so they’re less able to take advantage of the sugar in the candy. And you produce more saliva when you eat, which helps to rinse the sugar from the candy off your teeth. It also neutralizes acids made by the bacteria that can wear away at your tooth enamel.

For most families, having candy with dinner makes the most sense, since all members are likely to be at home and can brush their teeth just after, she said.

She emphasizes proper brushing right after eating candy

At least twice per day, Dr. Ribeiro brushes her teeth for at least one minute with toothpaste containing fluoride, and she flosses before brushing at night. Two minutes of careful brushing, which is what’s recommended by the American Dental Association, is even better than one, Dr. Ribeiro said.

Ideally, Dr. Ribeiro tries to brush her teeth right after she has candy, and always brushes before bedtime. Children should follow the same rules: brushing twice per day — and after they’ve had candy, if possible — and always flossing and brushing before bed.

For children under 5 or 6, she said, parents should brush their teeth for them, and parents should supervise the routine until their children are 8 or 9.

She takes extra care with the worst candies

Any sticky, gooey or chewy candies that lodge into the grooves and crevices of your teeth can do serious damage. A caramel, for instance, can create a “banquet” for the bacteria in your mouth, Dr. Ribeiro said. And sour candies can increase the risk of damage by making your mouth more acidic, she added.

Chocolate is Dr. Ribeiro’s favorite, in part because it’s less likely to linger on teeth. She still enjoys the gooey and chewy candies, but she makes sure to have them with meals, and she brushes and flosses right after to ensure their remnants don’t stick around.

She makes Halloween a teachable moment

Dr. Ribeiro knew it would be futile to forbid her daughter from having candy on holidays or at any other time of the year.

It’s more helpful to use Halloween as an opportunity to explain to children how sugar from candy or other popular sources like soda or juice can contribute to tooth decay, and how they can protect their teeth while still enjoying special treats, Dr. Ribeiro said.

This is knowledge that they’ll carry with them beyond Halloween, she said, adding that good dental habits could improve the health of your teeth in the long run. “This is a concept for life,” she said.

By Alice Callahan

Source: The New York Times

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