Opinion Columns & Blogs

Dr. Susan Maples: Even a little Halloween candy is really, really bad for kids

If you think the ghosts and haunted houses of Halloween are scary, what about all that candy? Is it really necessary to have a holiday that celebrates sugar and all the negative consequences that come from it?

We’re talking about real health issues like diabetes, obesity and tooth decay.

Compared to 20 years ago, Americans are consuming average of 130 to 260 more calories each day – at the low end for adult women and the high end for teenage boys. Those unburned calories turn into fat, so when do the math we’re talking about the equivalent of 14 to 28 additional pounds per person per year.

Sugar consumption has skyrocketed, and holidays like Halloween, make it more difficult for people to monitor their intake and remain within recommended guidelines – which are just a reflection of what’s good for them.

In reality, there’s nothing good about most candy. No parent should give out sticky or chewy candies like Tootsie Rolls, laughy taffy, gummy worms and caramel-filled candies to their children or anyone else’s, even in small quantities or any time of the year. Such candies become easily lodged in the groves of the biting surfaces of teeth and are hard to remove, which leads to tooth decay.

Then there’s sour candy. Here’s a wakeup call: Some candies’ pH levels are close to those of a car battery.

The acidity in one piece of sour candy is enough to potentially start the tooth erosion process. Add that touch of sourness to a hard or chewy candy that can get stuck in the grooves in your teeth, and before you know it, tooth enamel is starting to disappear.

If you must handout or consume candy on Halloween, the first best option is sugar-free gum that is naturally sweetened with xylitol that won’t attract bacteria and plaque in the mouth and might actually help prevent cavities. The next best choice is a non-sugary treat such as peanuts or popcorn.

The best bet: Find alternatives to candy. Halloween can still be plenty of fun without the dangers of tooth decay and obesity.

Instead of candy, consider giving out school supplies, pens, pencils or note pads. Or maybe a bottle of bubbles, a toothbrush, floss aids, coloring books, rubber balls or other small inexpensive toys.

If you find yourself totally unable to put it down, eat Halloween treats only after a meal and in small quantities. Many kids fill up on the overwhelming quantity of candy, leaving their bodies to run on sugar and empty calories. A burst of artificial energy is followed by fatigue and sluggishness. Always eat a balanced meal before indulging in candy.

Remember: only small quantities of candy at a time because a little piece of candy packs a lot more sugar than you realize. And when you eat it frequently, it really boosts your cavity proneness. If you do or your child consumes a lot of candy on Halloween, make sure to drink water with fluoride to help prevent cavities from forming. The additional water swishing through your mouth might also help remove some sticky substances from your teeth.

If one positive comes from Halloween, it is the best time to teach your kids healthy oral health habits. After they’ve eaten some candy, show them the right way to brush their teeth and floss. Let them know that good oral care is something that must be maintained on Halloween and all year long.

Bottom line: There’s nothing sweet about sugar. Help children make smart choices this Halloween.

Dr. Susan Maples is a dentist and author of “Blabber Mouth! 77 Secrets Only Your Mouth Can Tell You To Live a Healthier, Happier, Sexier Life.” Contact her at www.drsusanmaples.com