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Watch out for that Halloween candy

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POSTED September 19, 2012 12:48 a.m.

The store shelves and household candy bowls fill up with candy and other sweet, sticky treats around Halloween. When it’s time to trick-or-treat, the emphasis is definitely on the treats.

Aside from adding to one’s waistline, Oakdale dentist Tony Albertoni said that taffies and a particular brand of multi-colored, sticky hard candies are among the biggest problems for children’s teeth.

“It’ll get in the margins of fillings,” he said. “It can create a problem because it feeds cavity-causing bacteria.”

He reported that the bacteria thrive on refined carbohydrates, like candy, and it makes the bacteria excrete more acid, which then demineralizes the enamel and cavities form. When the candy gets in the margins of the fillings, it opens the door for the bacteria get in around the edges.

He added that before refined carbohydrates, tooth enamel was better, and there was very little tooth decay. He also said that when very old skeletons are studied, there is very little decay found on the teeth.

He further noted that jawbreakers can actually break teeth, so it’s best to let those dissolve if you’re going to consume them.

Dr. Albertoni said he prefers to give out a different type of sweet snack such as fruit and he doesn’t give out hard candies. There are other sweet alternatives such as some fruit punches because the sugar washes down – the teeth aren’t continuously bathing in the sugar. Sodas, he said, are also okay for teeth because they also wash down but probably are not so healthy otherwise.

“When you think Halloween, you think candy. It’s very exciting, and I hate to take that away from kids,” Dr. Albertoni said.

Then there is another set of rules for children with braces. Add to the list of other treats to avoid are Halloween favorites such as popcorn balls and candy apples.

“When you have braces you just have to stay away from sticky candy, popcorn balls… It can pop the brackets right off,” he said.

He further added that if the patient gets stuff under the brackets or wires then decay gets going on the teeth. It’s also much harder to take care of the teeth when braces are on and children, generally, aren’t as thorough or good about brushing and flossing. Softer candies, such as chocolate are okay for an occasional treat, but not with frequency.

“Anything real sticky, that’s a real no-no for braces,” Dr. Albertoni said.

What about the adults? They eat candy, too, and they also tend to have more dental work such as crowns or bridges.

Dr. Albertoni said that adults do have some advantage over kids because, he reported, as our teeth stay in our mouth longer, they calcify more, which helps make them stronger. Also, as you get older, you’re better able to take care of your teeth.

However, those hard, dense, resinous candy drops that are slightly gummy in nature and are a theater staple are among the worst offenders for dental work.

“Some dentists will use (them) to pull off crowns,” Dr. Albertoni said. “The patient bites into it and opens rapidly, and it’ll pull the crown right off.”

He added that adults need to be very diligent about cleaning with bridges and partials. A lack of dexterity in senior citizens can also hinder their ability to clean their teeth and dental work well.

Sticky candy can loosen one side of a bridge or crown and then the decay starts and gets up under the dental work. Dr. Albertoni said that candy will cause decay in those loose areas and you or your dentist likely won’t know it until it’s too late because X-rays don’t see through crowns.

Some adults still get cavities, too, because they may just have soft enamel, he added.

To Dr. Albertoni, prevention of cavities is the key. He said that one of the best ways to prevent the bacteria from causing cavities in the first place is to have children get consistent fluoride treatments from about six months until 10 years old.

He explained that fluoride helps harden the enamel on the teeth. It incorporates into the enamel as the tooth develops under the gum line.

“Then, when the tooth erupts, you have nice, hard enamel,” he said, adding that some kids never develop cavities if they’ve had consistent fluoride treatment. He noted it can decrease cavities by 80 percent or more if diligent with the treatments.

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