So, here we are in November already and you still have a ridiculous collection of halloween treats that are sure to rot your teeth out. Maybe you all think I’m against this tradition of going door to door begging strangers for sugar laden snacks. Maybe you think I pass out toothbrushes and fresh vegetables to our neighborhood children. On the contrary, I let my kids indulge. I also take their candy like it’s going out of style! Halloween is one of my all time favorite celebrations and I thoroughly enjoy every type of candy that makes it’s way into our home. Having said that, I do have some helpful strategies for reducing your cavity risk this time of year.
How Sugar Contributes to Cavities
This simple equation to explains the candy decay process:
Sugar + Germs = Acid. Acid + Tooth = Decay
There are basically four elements that need to exist in order for the candy in your mouth to cause a cavity: Teeth, bacteria, sugar and acid. Somehow you must eliminate one of these elements to break the cycle. I don’t recommend taking teeth out so let’s focus on how to reduce the effects of the others instead.
Keep a Germ Free Set of Teeth
Unless some of the candy has an extremely low pH, most candy can only create acid when the germs in the mouth ingest it. When bacteria process the sugars, an acid byproduct is formed. It’s that acid that starts to etch or break down the surface of the teeth. Deep grooves and thin spots will become damaged first. If someone routinely leaves thousands of germs behind due to poor brushing and flossing habits, the risk of those germs creating an acid bath increases. Conversely, if someone has a really fresh and germ free mouth, there won’t be any “sugar bugs” around to eat and multiple. I strongly recommend we all brush and floss really well BEFORE we eat candy. I know … I know most of you feel like you need to brush right AFTER eating candy but the rational here is that the acids that form from plaque and sugar actually weaken the tooth surfaces for up to 20 minutes after that last bite and you can avoid the acids altogether if there are no germs around to create it.
Water is Your Best Friend
It usually takes a while for the spit in your mouth to get rid of plaque and food acids after you indulge. One way to speed up the process is to rinse your mouth really well with something that has a neutral or slightly basic pH. Water is absolutely going to help dilute and wash away particles of candy and acids that have been formed. It will rehydrate and remineralize soft spots as long as there are plenty of minerals and proteins in your saliva as well.
The Two Week Rule
I personally made this rule because I HATE having the same “Can I have a piece of candy?” conversation day after day for months on end. I refuse to go that route. It annoys me to no end reminding the kiddos that we should only have candy after dinner and that they’ve had enough already. Instead of telling them that I don’t have patience, here’s where I put the dental hygienist hat on. In order to reduce the days that their teeth are exposed to candy, they only have two weeks to eat their favorites. Limiting exposure times for each candy feast is also going to shorten the amount of time the sugars are being turned into potentially damaging liquid acids. Usually by the end of week two, we are all tired of eating the sweet stuff anyway. When November13th comes around, the leftovers get tossed or donated to other people.
Fluoride Rinses or Pastes
Although we can take the above steps to reduct cavities, I still think a nice mineral wash or paste is still an important routine that can help fight off plaque acids and decay even more. There are quite a few choices when it comes to fluoride products that help keep our teeth strong and decay resistant. I suggest you ask your dental team which is the right for you.