Halloween Treats Can Be Tricky for Parents

Correction Appended

As Halloween approaches, many parents are again asking the question, “How much candy should I let my child have?” Childhood obesity, hyperactivity and oral health are top parental concerns.

The United States is the world's largest candy consumer, spending more than $8.8 billion on various sweets in 2009, according to the Information Security Oversight Office. On average, Americans consume about 25 lb. of candy per capita annually, according to the Census Bureau. M&Ms are the bestselling candies in the U.S. as well as worldwide, according to Euromonitor, which did a study on the most popular candies based on global consumption.

That’s good for candy companies and retailers, but it spells doom for dentists.

“Over time, if you don't properly clean your teeth, the results might be tooth decay, gum disease and possible tooth loss," stated Dr. Ruchi Sahota, American Dental Association consumer adviser and a practicing dentist from Fremont, Calif.

With childhood obesity on the rise, the treats part can be tricky as well, medical professionals say.

“The link between childhood obesity and adult obesity is very strong, so it is extremely important that we as parents provide our children with the tools they need to develop and maintain healthy eating plans,” American Dietetic Association's former President Jessie M. Pavlinac said in a statement.

Several dental practices around the nation are offering candy buy-back programs for kids. The day after Halloween, children are invited to bring in their haul to their local dentists’ offices, where the practices then pay the children a set amount per pound. One program,, ships the candy to U.S. military troops overseas, through Operation Gratitude. Others ship the candy to other various overseas organizations, church missionaries and local food pantries.

Children’s Dental, in St. George, Utah, is offering its own Cash-4-Candy on Nov. 1. The practice offers $2 per pound of candy on Nov. 1, up to 5 pounds of candy per person. Even adults can bring in candy left over from the stash they bought for the night before. Not only does the practice donate the candy to U.S. troops and local food pantry, Dixie Care & Share, it also plans to match every dollar they pay to children and donate it to Feed the Planet, a nonprofit to fight world hunger.

“We’ve got kids, we understand Halloween,” said Laurie Scholzen, manager at Children’s Dental.

“All kids love candy, and some is all right,” said Scholzen, whose husband, Dr. Jeremy Scholzen, is the Children’s Dental dentist. “But if your kids have fillings and caps, anything that is sticky and gummy can pull them out … sticky things can also get stuck in the grooves of teeth and remain there” even after brushing, she said.

Scholzen, who has four children of her own, said chocolate is the least of the Halloween offenders.

“Anything chocolate is the least likely to cause decay,” said Scholzen, who said she hands out toothbrushes to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. “Chocolate is easily washed away with drinks and saliva, and of course, brushing. Also it’s not as acidic.”

Susan Wathen, a worker at Children’s Dental, and a mother herself, had high praise for Cash-4-Candy, now in its third year.

“All the sugar on your teeth is bad, especially when you’re not brushing. You know, kids aren’t as careful with brushing as adults [are],” Wathen said. “This way (with the Halloween buy-back) they get to get out on Halloween, have their fun and get their candy. But then they don’t have all those leftovers sitting around.”

The ADA offers these recommendations for Halloween candy consumption:

Consume Halloween candy and other sugary foods with meals.
Saliva production increases during meals and helps neutralize acids produced by bacteria in your mouth and helps rinse away food particles.

Avoid hard candy and other sweets that stay in your mouth for a long time.
Besides how often you snack, the length of time food is in your mouth plays a role in tooth decay. Unless it is a sugar-free product, candies that stay in the mouth for a long period of time subject teeth to prolonged acid attack, increasing the risk for tooth decay.

Avoid sticky candies that cling to your teeth.
The stickier candies, like taffy and gummy bears, take longer to get washed away by saliva, increasing the risk for tooth decay.

Chew gum that has the ADA seal.
Chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals has been shown to reduce tooth decay, because increased saliva flow helps wash out food and neutralize the acid produced by dental plaque bacteria.

Correction: Thursday, October 20, 2011:

An article on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, about Halloween candy and dental and dietary advice incorrectly stated that Jessie Pavlinac is the president of American Dietetic Association. Pavlinac was the president in 2010, but is not the current president this year.

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