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Trick or Treat ... or Cavities?

Use Halloween as a time to teach your children important lessons about nutrition and dental care.
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WebMD Feature

Like many of our wintertime holidays, Halloween -- with its candy and parties and excess -- could be seen as a glutton's paradise. But that's part of its attraction. It's a child's holiday -- dress up in funny outfits and eat too much candy. It's also a holiday that puts parents in a bind. Let them eat till they're sick or be a killjoy who runs around confiscating a child's Reese's Cups?

Moderation and rules are not characteristics we often associate with Halloween, but, say child health experts, the holiday can be a good time to teach your kids important lessons about nutrition and dental care.

"On the positive side, if you let them eat it all at once, they'll get rid of it," says Jim Steiner, DDS, a dentist who practices at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital in Ohio. "Nutritionists would hit me over the head for saying so, but from the dentist's perspective it's best to get it all over at once, so the kids don't get endless exposure to acid-forming bacteria."

And Steiner is right. Dietitians are never in favor of parents aiding and abetting a major binge, even if it is a holiday.

"I don't want to come across as a stick-in-the-mud," says Maureen Kilfoil, RD, LD, a dietitian who, like Steiner, works at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. "It's a fun holiday and kids should be able to enjoy it. But parents need to curb kids' tendencies to overdo it. Parents need to be parents and set the rules. Let them have their treats, but put some limits on their consumption."

Avoid Tooth Decay

"In general, I tell parents that kids who eat many times a day are at higher risk of tooth decay," says Steiner. "It's the kids who have access to sippy cups or snacks all the time that are at high risk for tooth decay. It's that kind of chronic exposure that causes [cavities.]"

And that's why Halloween is a problem with the dental profession. Some children will hoard their favorite candies and eat them a little bit at a time over a long period of time.

"I always tell parents that they should try to encourage their kids to limit eating to breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snack times," says Steiner. "And drink water between meals. Most water systems in the U.S. have added fluoride. When we drink water, it helps by washing some acids out of our mouths and it also supplies fluoride, which protects against decay."

Children should brush three times a day for two minutes and rinse with a fluoridated mouth rinse, according to the American Academy of General Dentistry. Fluoride treatments, applied directly onto teeth, are also available in any dentist's office.

Steiner says he recommends children have their first checkup between one and two years of age with a pediatric dentist.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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