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Healthy Halloween Candy

Costumes, jack-o-lanterns and light shows set to Monster Mash are all fine and dandy, but the kids are really in this whole Halloween thing for the candy. Can you blame them? It’s free, it’s tasty and it’s not something they get every day of the year (thank goodness).

But with great piles of candy comes great responsibility on the part of parents. Candy, shockingly, is not the healthiest treat around, so consider the cavities and the calories before letting your kids chow down on their Halloween stash.

Duration is the key to dental health during Halloween, whether it’s the time one piece of candy stays in your child’s mouth or the number of days your child indulges in his Halloween earnings. “Candy for one day is not so bad,” says Irving dentist Dr. Jack Siegrist, “but candy for a month is worse.”

Even in moderation, certain candies cause more dental damage than others. Carrollton dentist Dr. Robert G. Vittetoe warns against hard candies like Jolly Ranchers and lollipops that kids can suck on for minutes (or hours) at a time. But sticky candies are the target nemesis, he says. Siegrist agrees. “Sticky candy is the worst because it stays in the mouth longer and causes more damage,” he explains.

This is good news for chocoholics. While your average Halloween chocolate bar isn’t the ideal snack, it can be consumed more quickly than hard candy. Plus, explains Vittetoe, the chocolate will wash off your child’s teeth much more easily than sticky, sugary sucker residue.

And you can make any candy more teeth-friendly by reminding your kids to brush after eating. Without the aid of a toothbrush, “it takes 20 minutes for saliva to ‘wash’ the sugar off their teeth,” Vittetoe says. “If your kids are constantly putting in the sugar faster than the saliva can wash it out, they have a greater chance of decay.” According to Vittetoe, the risk is especially high in kids whose permanent teeth haven’t arrived, as baby teeth are much weaker and more susceptible to decay.

Chewing sugar-free gum can speed up the process of sugar removal if a toothbrush is unavailable. In fact, sugar-free gum is a good idea anyway: Some brands contain xylitol, which inhibits bacterial growth on your teeth. Combining this kind of gum with the right kind of candy could add up to fewer cavities.

Unfortunately, no candy is perfect – not even our beloved chocolate bars. They lead the candy aisle in calorie count, and the fat content is not appetizing, either. But here’s the conundrum: Candies that look better on the label include those cavities-in-a-wrapper, the gummies and hard candies. So families looking to go healthy with their sweet treats this season should take into account both the nutrition and the dental facts before deciding which candies to keep and which to pitch.Good contenders might be something like Smarties, York Peppermint Patties or the perennial favorite candy corn – faster to eat and easier on the calories.

You also have control over the candy you purchase to give away at your door or at a party. One good rule of thumb is to avoid your favorite candy so that the kids (and you) won’t be tempted to snack between trick-or-treaters. You may even want to look into alternative treats. Both Siegrist and Vittetoe recommend fruit as a sweet substitute for candy. Vittetoe also suggests popcorn or raisins – perhaps not quite as exciting, but much healthier than sugary gummies or high-calorie chocolate bars.

And there’s always that go-to substitute: money. “The best way to care for children’s teeth is to buy the remainder of their candy from them the day after Halloween,” Siegrist says. Just make sure you don’t keep too much for yourself.