Article by Brenda Contreras courtesy of Dental Optimizer
Every year, candy companies conjure up a new storm of chewy, sticky, nut-filled, caramel-coated candies that wreak havoc on our teeth. But this doesn't have to be a dentist's worst nightmare. There are precautions parents and kids can take.
According to Gardner Beale, D.D.S., associate professor of clinical dentistry in USC School of Dentistry's Department of Pediatrics, cavities are caused by three factors-bacteria, carbohydrates and sugars. "If we can eliminate one of these factors, then we can prevent the formation of cavities," he says.
As you might expect, Beale suggests that the intake of sugar should be kept to a minimum. When children, or adults for that matter, have a high sugar exposure, the sugar is absorbed by the bacteria in the mouth and turned into acid, which then damages the teeth.
However, sugar is not the only one to blame for a mouth full of fillings. Carbohydrates and acids cause good teeth to go bad. Other foods, such as potato chips, dried fruits, acidic fruits and anything "that is chewy or sticks to your teeth," Beale says, can cause cavities, since the sugar and carbohydrates in the food are stored in your teeth for a long time.
For example, Beale says that if the choice for candy is between 10 Hershey's Kisses or a lollipop, one should choose the chocolate treat. "The Hershey's Kisses chocolate will dissolve quickly whereas the lollipop stays in your mouth continuously," he explains.
Sticky sweets like fruit rolls, gummy bears, Laffy Taffy and Starbursts, as well as hard candy like lollipops, jawbreakers and Sweet Tarts should be avoided as much as possible.
According to Beale, sticky candies can stay in between teeth for a long period of time and are not easily removed by saliva. This means that the longer those sweets stay in your mouth, the more prone you are to bacteria converting the sugars into acid and causing tooth decay. The same thing applies to hard candy, unless it's sugar free.
Candy such as chocolate, sugar-free gum or anything that contains xylitol, a sugar substitute, is not as harmful as hard and sticky sweets, and can actually aid in the prevention of tooth decay. Sugar-free gum or gum that contains xylitol, like Trident, are good to chew between meals because they produce more saliva, which helps your mouth rinse out the acid.
In addition, chocolate contains tannins, naturally occurring chemicals that prevent bacteria from sticking to the teeth.
However it's not just a matter of knowing what types of candies are good and which are bad that will aid in the prevention of tooth decay. Beale points out that education in oral health plays a very important role as well.
According to Julie Jenks, D.D.S., M.P.H., assistant professor of clinical dentistry in the Department of Pediatrics at the USC School of Dentistry, everyone is at risk for tooth decay if proper oral care is not practiced. And parents, she says, are responsible for their children's oral health habits and their daily diets.
"The key to tooth decay prevention is limiting the frequency and consistency of sugars and carbohydrates," says Jenks.
Jenks and Beale offer the following additional:
Reprinted with permission from USC HealthNow
- Monitor your children's candy consumption.
- Don't allow children to eat candy throughout the day. Give candy after dinner and make them brush their teeth before going to bed.
- Chew sugarless gum after a meal to reduce levels of bacteria on teeth.