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A North Texas dentist on the best and worst candy for your teeth

Dr. Burnett said chocolate causes the least damage because it melts faster and is easier toi remove from your teeth
Dr. Burnett said chocolate causes the least damage because it melts faster and is easier to remove from your teeth

Parents after Halloween have to decide how much children can eat of the candy they collected. A North Texas dentist says some types are better for their teeth than others. KERA’s Sam Baker talks about this in today’s Vital Signs with Dr. Janna Burnett, a clinical associate professor at Texas A&M College of Dentistry.

Is sugar really bad for your teeth?

The bacteria in your mouth that cause cavities like to eat sugar just like we do. They make acid as a byproduct, and that acid is what causes decay or dental cavities.

Do (dental) appointments spike after Halloween?

We do see more patients for emergency visits because they have pulled off some of their other restorations from eating sticky candy or really crunchy hard candies.

Well, when it comes to what kids will collect at Halloween, are some types of candy better than others?

Yes. So when comparing candy, dark chocolate is going to be best because it's lower in sugar. And there are actually some studies that suggest that the flavonoidsand the polyphenolsfound in dark chocolate can reduce your bad breath.

Chocolate, in general, is easier to brush away than other types of candy. So that makes chocolate one of the best options.

Another good option is chewing gum that has xylitol in it. It's sugarless and the xylitol promotes saliva production, which is going to help naturally clean your teeth.

Another helpful tip is it's good to eat candy with meals because your mouth will make a little extra saliva that can wash away any sugar.

So what is the worst type of candy?

The biggest culprits are sticky or hard candies because they tend to lodge in the chewing surfaces of the teeth. If you have any dental crowns or fillings, that sticky candy can also dislodge any dental restorations that you have.

And another issue is any kind of sour candy. It tends to be more acidic, and that makes your teeth more vulnerable to cavities because that acidic environment can speed up the dissolving of their dental enamel.

Gummy candies aren't good either.

I understand they're not good because they stay in contact with your teeth longer. So, what we want is for that sugar to contact the teeth for the least amount of time and for it to be easy to brush off. And so anything that's sticking in those little crevices and the chewing surfaces of your teeth is going to be problematic.

I guess the same thing is the case for maybe something like a popcorn ball or caramel popcorn, I guess what may be caramel apples or candy apples.

It's better to enjoy it without the caramel if you can. Or if you do want to enjoy those, then make sure you're brushing and flossing afterward.

What would be better alternatives to candy from a dentist's point of view?

So you could do apples with some peanut butter and some cinnamon that might give you a little taste of fall that you're looking for. And then any kind of nuts, salted nuts are good for your teeth as long as you aren't crunching them on your porcelain crowns.

But of course, that's not the kind of stuff kids are looking for on Halloween.

It's tricky. I have nine-year-old twin boys. My boys love candy. I let them indulge on Halloween, and I usually let them indulge a little bit the following week. But at some point, we kind of have to trash the candy.

I also make sure that they're brushing twice a day or 2 minutes and make sure that they're getting all the chewing surfaces of their teeth and I make them floss as well.


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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.