Trick or Treat ... or Cavities?
Use Halloween as a time to teach your children important lessons about nutrition and dental care.
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
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
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.