As a dentist, I assure you that all candies are not necessarily harmful to teeth. From an oral health perspective, candy can be enjoyed provided that sugar is not left on teeth and cavity-causing bacteria are reduced. Sticky foods or frequent snacks are most likely to cause tooth decay. It does not make any difference what type of sugar contacts your teeth. Fructose from bananas, maltose from milk, or sucrose from candy can all cause decay if they are allowed to remain on teeth
Have Your Teeth and Eat Your Candy Too
1. Throw away all hard candies. Hard candies are most likely to promote tooth decay because they remain in the mouth for an extended time. Hard candies can also cause a chipped tooth and cause young children to choke.
2. Encourage children not to eat their candy until after Halloween. This will give parents a chance to inspect and sort the treats.
3. Sticky candies can damage dental work, such as fillings and dental bridges, and orthodontic appliances, like dental braces and retainers. However, they are not as cariogenic as previously thought. If you must chew gum, use only sugar-free brands.
4. Eat candy only when you can brush your teeth immediately afterward. Candy for desert after a balanced meal is acceptable. Do not include candy in school lunches or allow your children to eat continuously throughout the day.
5. Always practice good oral hygiene. This includes brushing two to three times each day for at least two minutes, using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. It is best to brush immediately after a meal. If you are not able to brush your teeth, rinse your mouth with water. Brushing before bedtime is particularly beneficial. It is also important to use dental floss to remove food from between teeth.
Hard candies, like jaw-breakers and suckers cause tooth decay. This is because they are designed to stay in the mouth for long periods of time. From a dental perspective, a two-pound bag of soft candy consumed in one minute does less damage to teeth than a single hard candy left in the mouth for two minutes!
Dentists used to think that taffy or caramel caused more cavities because they are sticky. However, recent studies suggest that the sugar in caramel dissolves quickly and is washed off teeth faster than the sugar in soda crackers. Cookies, cereal, potato chips, dried fruit, crackers and bananas are actually the stickiest types of foods.
Tooth-Friendly Candies and Foods
Some dentists have suggested that chocolate may prevent cavities, but this subject remains controversial. The tannin in cocoa appears to inhibit plaque formation. Plaque is the sticky film that forms on the tooth surface and promotes tooth decay. Caveat: Processed candy chocolate may not offer the same benefits as cocoa tannin. I believe that any cavity fighting advantage that may be gained from tannin is negated by the sugar in chocolate.
Many studies show that chewing gum increases salivary flow. Saliva is important because it washes food away from teeth. I do not encourage patients to chew gum. If you enjoy gum, purchase sugarless brands. Sugarless gums usually contain artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohol (e.g., mannitol syrup). If the ingredients include dextrose, sucrose, maltose, fructose or any word ending in "ose," it is probably not a sugar-free product. Chewing gum is not a substitute for brushing teeth.
Aged cheeses like mozzarella, jack and cheddar also increase salivary flow. They may also act as a buffer to neutralize the acids that attack teeth. The calcium in dairy products strengthens teeth.
Some foods that are relatively less likely to cause cavities are popcorn, peanuts and sunflower seeds. Researchers theorize that the fat in these foods reduce the amount of fermentable carbohydrates that contact teeth. Salivary enzymes convert carbohydrates to sugars.
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