- Candy is all the rage on Halloween, but a new report shows what it can do to your teeth.
- The report uncovers the most dangerous candy in America for tooth health, and which candy parents hate most.
- Dentists explain how to get your sweet fix without damaging your teeth and gums.
Sure, Halloween is about dressing up in costumes and embracing all things scary, but for a lot of kids (and adults), the holiday is really all about the candy.
As good as a bag full of treats can taste, they often come with a cost — dental issues.
One report by Shiny Smiles Veneers showed that 35% of Americans have experienced candy-related dental issues.
“I think it’s important to make good choices when it comes to what we eat and a candy treat from time to time is ok, however, daily, and frequent consumption of candy will eventually have negative consequences to our teeth, requiring dental treatment,” Kristin Lenz Galbreath, DMD, owner of Union Grove Family Dental in Wisconsin, told Healthline.
The report identified the following as the most common dental issues caused by candy.
Bacteria in the mouth can metabolize simple carbohydrates (sugar), and in turn, lower the overall pH in your mouth, creating an acidic environment, said Amy Sliwa Lies, DDS, owner of FiveSix Family Dental in Illinois.
“An acidic environment can erode the enamel on your teeth, making them more sensitive and more susceptible to decay,” she told Healthline.
Also, even when sugar is not metabolized, it can cause sensitivity on areas without enamel.
“The way your teeth ‘feel’ is through tiny little tubules in the dentin layer of the tooth. These tubules have fluid in them. The fluid expands and contracts in response to hot, cold, sweets, etcetera, and this is interpreted by the nerve of the tooth, contained, along with tiny blood vessels, in the pulp of the tooth,” said Lies.
People with gum recession are commonly sensitive to sugar, added Lenz Galbreath.
“Additionally, a common complaint for a tooth that already has a cavity is sensitivity to sweets,” she said.
If candy causes damage to the teeth, fillings, or crowns, this can cause pain.
“Biting into a tooth and cracking it can be very painful. A cracked tooth that is cracked into the nerve or root of the tooth is extremely painful,” said Lenz Galbreath.
Damaged fillings and crowns
If candy is sticky, it can pull out a piece of filling or pull off a crown, and if it is very hard, it can break a filling or a tooth, said Lies.
“After repeated exposure to candy and the oral bacteria digesting the sugar into acid and eroding the enamel, tooth decay can form. While it doesn’t directly harm the filling material this way, the decay can form at the margin of the filling or crown (the edge where tooth meets filling/crown),” she said.
Chipped or cracked tooth
Lenz Galbreath often sees patients months after they have broken a tooth.
“A patient will know they cracked or chipped a tooth when eating but it doesn’t hurt, so the patient does not see the dentist right away,” she said. “However, a few months later it will start hurting because a cavity has developed on the tooth or there is a nerve exposure.”
This is problematic because a cracked or chipped tooth has lost its outer layer, the enamel, and the cavity progresses at a faster rate, increasing the likelihood for more treatment, such as a root canal or crown, Lenz Galbreath explained.
Chewing hard or sticky candies puts added stress and work on the temporomandibular joints (TMJ), which are the two joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull.
“Repeated candy chewing will lead to pain and inflammation to the TMJ and muscles,” said Lenz Galbreath.
Hyperextending or opening the jaw wide to eat large candy can also cause discomfort.
While the report did not mention gum infection, Lies said the most common candy-related issue she sees is little pieces of candy getting caught under the gums and not being removed by floss.
“Sometimes it will stay wedged under the gums, usually between teeth, and then can create a periodontal abscess (localized infection in the gums),” she said.
The report found the following candy to be the most dangerous for teeth.
- Jolly Rancher
- Tootsie Roll
- Laffy Taffy
- Atomic Fireball
- Blow Pops and Milk Duds
Parents noted that they hate Jawbreaker the most when it comes to candy.
“I agree these candies are either harder than or stickier than any other natural or healthy food options,” said Lenz Galbreath. “Biting into one of these hard or sticky candies can break a tooth and cause severe tooth pain.”
Sucking on hard candy or a mint every hour isn’t a good idea, either.
“Doing that, you are basically keeping the pH lowered all day and setting yourself up for decay,” said Lies.
When it comes to candy that gets stuck in Americans teeth most often, the report found the following to be the biggest culprits:
- Laffy Taffy
- Tootsie Roll
- Salt Water Taffy
- Jolly Rancher
- Milk Duds
- Jelly Beans
- Gummy Bears
Any hard candy or sticky candy that stays in the mouth for a long time can cause damage.
“Part of the equation for causing cavities is how long the pH is lowered. A piece of chocolate dissolves quickly and you swallow it and then your saliva works to return the oral environment to a normal pH,” said Lies.
“Hard and sticky candies that remain in your mouth a long time keep the pH lowered for longer, thus eroding the enamel more.”
According to the report, parents prioritize the following when it comes to their kids’ Halloween candy:
- 55% check their candy for razor blades, drugs, glass, and other harmful stuff
- 40% take some candy so their kids don’t eat as much
- 21% throw their candy out after a couple of weeks
- 18% take the candy they want first
When indulging in the candy loot, Lenz Galbreath said it is best to eat it with a meal or right after a meal because the body makes additional saliva during this time in order to break down food and naturally cleanse the mouth.
“Additionally, when eating foods, especially sugary foods, it is best to consume the food in less than 30 minutes and not eat the food for a long period of time. Reintroducing sugar to our teeth repeatedly increases the risk for cavities,” she said.
While brushing or flossing is a great move, Lenz Galbreath said hold off from doing so for 30 minutes after eating, and then once you brush or floss, wait to eat for at least an hour.
“This allows our saliva and the ‘good bacteria’ to do its job of naturally protecting our teeth and gums,” she said.
Lies said stick to moderation when it comes to candy.
“Have a piece of candy, then be done. Get your pH back to normal as soon as possible by drinking water or brushing your teeth. Fluoride in the water or toothpaste can bind to the little eroded spots in the enamel and arrest/reverse the process,” she said.