PhotoA few years back there was a push to hand out tooth brushes, pennies and small toys at Halloween instead of candy. Needless to say, that didn't go over so well with trick-or-treaters.

Still, some parents would like their children to come home with treats that are easier on teeth. Does any candy fit that description? The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) says some candy is better in that regard.

While dentists would, in fact, prefer your children come home with a bag of tooth brushes and dental floss, they're realistic enough to know that's just not going to happen. They're just trying to limit the damage.

"Of course, dentists do not advocate that children eat large amounts of sugary treats, but it is that time of year, so we want to clarify for parents which treats are better for their kids' teeth and which ones may increase the risk of developing cavities," says AGD spokeswoman Cynthia Sherwood.

Worst choices

First, the very worst kind of candy for kids' teeth:

  • Chewy/sticky sweets, such as gummy candies, taffy and even dried fruit can be difficult for children and adults to resist -- and even more difficult to remove from teeth. "These candies are a serious source of tooth decay, particularly when they get stuck in the crevices between teeth, making it nearly impossible for saliva to wash them away," said Sherwood, who is a dentist.
  • Sour candies are highly acidic and can break down tooth enamel quickly. The good news: saliva slowly helps to restore the natural balance of the acid in the mouth. Sherwood recommends that patients wait 30 minutes to brush their teeth after consuming sour/acidic candies; otherwise, they will be brushing the acid onto more tooth surfaces and increasing the risk of enamel erosion.
  • Sugary snacks, including candy corn, cookies and cake, all contain high amounts of sugar, which can cause tooth decay.

Best choices

So if you stay away from those kinds of treats, what's left? Sherwood has three suggestions:

  • Sugar-free lollipops and hard candies stimulate saliva, which can help prevent dry mouth. "A dry mouth allows plaque to build up on teeth faster, leading to an increased risk of cavities," Sherwood said.
  • Sugar-free gum can actually prevent cavities as it not only dislodges food particles from between the teeth but also increases saliva -- which works to neutralize the acids of the mouth and prevent tooth decay.
  • Dark chocolate and its antioxidants, according to some studies, can be good for the heart and may even lower blood pressure.

"Parents should closely monitor their children's candy intake this Halloween -- and all year round -- and continue to promote good oral health habits," Sherwood said. "Kids also should be brushing their teeth twice a day for two minutes."

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