Halloween is about the costumes, sure. But, for kids, the costumes are a means to an end and that end is candy. The ultimate goal of Halloween is to have your candy bucket overflowing with chocolate covered, sugar-coated riches when you get home so you can dump out and dividing up your haul into the good, the tradeable, and the gross (Mike and Ike? Gross). But candy is, well, candy and it’s bad for teeth. And, just as there’s a hierarchy of , there’s a list of main candy offenders that are much worse for a kids’ teeth than others.
“We’re talking about one day,” says Dr. Ramon Duran, DMD. “If you’re taking proper preventative measures — brushing twice a day, especially at night — a single night of candy isn’t going to be too damaging.” However, Duran says, the problem with Halloween is that it gives kids a chance to create candy collections that, if not checked, can sustain months of unhealthy snacking.
The reason candy is so problematic comes down to simple sugars. “Simple sugar is the fuel that causes the bacteria in your mouth to produce acid,” says Duran. As the bacteria breaks down the sugar, the resulting acid breaks down tooth enamel which can’t be rebuilt. “That fuel can last for up to an hour, depending on the type of candy, so if you have a kid who is eating a piece every half hour, the decay will become a constant process.”
So, this Halloween, when your kid puts on his or her Fortnite or Black Panther costume, do your best to keep an eye out for these seven specifically severe offenders.
Sour Patch Kids
According to Dr. Duran, Sour Patch Kids are a double-dose of decay for teeth. The acid byproduct created by simple sugars deteriorates the enamel on teeth. These sour-sweet, sugar-flecked gummies — and all sour candies for that matter — contain a lot of acid so eating them can produce a highly toxic environment for your teeth.
Even if you toss the yellow ones (as you should), the remaining square-shaped Starbursts are still on Duran’s list of main candy offenders. “Chewy candy, like Starburst, stay in your mouth for a long time,” says Dr. Duran. “They have a high sugar content and, because the candy sticks to your teeth, that sugar will stick in your mouth.” Even after you’ve finished eating a Starburst, per pieces of it can linger on your teeth for at least another 10 or 15 minutes. “If you have appliances, like braces, it could be there for hours, just fueling that bacteria to produce acid,” says Duran.
“Hard candy is dangerous for two reasons,” says Dr. Duran. “You don’t want to chew on them, because they can crack, break and damage your teeth. It’s like biting on rocks, and pieces can stay stuck in your teeth for a long time. On the other hand, if you suck on them, you’ll just prolong the process of feeding simple sugars to the bacteria in your mouth. The best thing you can do – and this is true with all candies – is work to remove the leftover remnants in your mouth by brushing. Even simply rinsing with water can be very beneficial.”
It’s the double threat of the Tootsie Pop that makes it on Duran’s main offender’s list. “This is chocolate wrapped in hard candy,” he says. “So, take all of the negatives of hard candy – the fact that it can break your teeth, or lengthen the amount of time sugar stays in your mouth – and multiply them by the high sugar content of the chocolate inside.” Chocolate, he adds, will rinse off of your teeth relatively easily, but the hard candy is harder to dislodge and remove.
The creepy name should be a clue — there’s not much redeeming about these old school sweets that are still found in candy assortments. “These were popular when I was a kid,” says Dr. Duran. “And they were known for pulling out fillings pretty frequently. In addition, the sticky caramel has a very high sugar content, and will stay on and in your teeth for a while.”
We know: M&Ms? They’re so harmless right? Again, it’s the candy’s doube-threat of sugar and chocolate that makes them a main offender. “M&Ms are just candy wrapped in candy,” says Dr. Duran. “The shell is simple sugar, and the milk chocolate is a second helping of it.” That sugar content, per Duran, is where the bad stuff is.
Of all the candies on this list, chocolate is actually the “best” for your teeth. But, there’s a catch. “The cocoa in dark chocolate has antioxidants,” says Dr. Duran. “Antioxidants can definitely have positive effects on your body. The problem is, most kids don’t like dark chocolate – it can be very bitter, and is more of an acquired taste. They like the milk chocolate, which is sweeter because it has more sugar, and less cocoa. And that sugar is the fuel we’re talking about when it comes to bacteria and acid production.”
Now, Dr. Duran isn’t being the Halloween fun police. He’s just vying for some awareness — and moderation. “I’m not saying, ‘Don’t eat any candy!’” says Duran. “Just do it in moderation. You don’t want kids going through five pounds of sugar in a few weeks, or building a candy warehouse under their pillows.” If they do have a candy warehouse, however, we’ll give them points for entrepreneurial spirit.