Dentists' tricks counter treats

As Halloween looms, experts say brushing vital after eating candy

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter



Candy buyback events

Who: Gentech Dentist

When: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 1 and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 2

Where: Offices in Salmon Creek, 14201 N.E. 20th Ave., Suite 1101, and east Vancouver, 605 S.E. 164th Ave. Suite 103.

Details: Kids 16 and younger receive $1 per pound of candy (10 pound max), a free toothbrush and entry into a drawing for one of three Nintendo game systems.

Who: Adventure Dental

When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 1 and Nov. 5-8.

Where: 2501 N.E. 134th St. Suite 105 in Vancouver.

Details: Kids receive $1 per pound. The child who brings in the most candy will win a prize.

This Halloween, dentists are offering Clark County's little goblins and ghouls some tricks to go along with the holiday treats.

The sweets that fill plastic trick-or-treat buckets can gnaw away at teeth and cause cavities. But a few dentist-approved tricks can make the sweet stuff less frightful.

"We're not party poopers," said Dr. David Neil, dentist at Adventure Dental in Salmon Creek. "We love treats like the next person, but it's important that we practice a good diet and good oral hygiene afterwards."

The bacteria that are normally in your mouth also ingest the things you eat. They love simple sugars and carbohydrates, Neil said. After eating the food, the bacteria excrete an acidic byproduct that stays on the teeth and, ultimately, causes decay, Neil said.

"The outcome is you get cavities," he said.

Continuous or repeated exposure to sugar -- whether in the form of candy, soda or sweetened coffee -- leads to a more acidic mouth and greater decalcification of teeth. That breakdown leads to cavities, said Dr. Dave Stinchfield, dentist at Discovery Dental in Washougal.

The more exposure, the more prone you are for decay, he said.

"Eating a piece of candy every 10 minutes throughout the day and slowly working through the 2-pound tub they got on Halloween, that can cause some damage," Stinchfield said.

Another way to limit exposure is to eat candy after meals as opposed to between meals. After meals, the saliva is already working to move food out of the mouth and can counter the acid, said Dr. Al Watanabe, dentist at Gentech Dentist in Salmon Creek.

When it comes to your teeth, not all Halloween candy is equal.

Sticky candies, such as taffy and Starburst, can get wedged in between teeth, leaving sugar on the tooth surface longer. Sucking on hard candies, such as Jolly Ranchers, also exposes the teeth to sugar for a longer period of time, Stinchfield said.

Chocolate, on the other hand, dissolves much quicker, getting it off the teeth faster, he said.

Sour candies, however, are the most damaging to teeth because they are more acidic, Watanabe said.

"Sour candies — SweeTarts, Lemonheads, Warheads — are probably almost as bad for your teeth as battery acid," Watanabe said. "But the candy tastes better than battery acid."

For those who want to eat sweets, dentists recommend sugar-free candies or candies made with xylitol, which is a natural sweetener used as a sugar substitute. Candies and gums made with xylitol actually help fight tooth decay, Neil said.

The most important thing to do after eating sweets is brush, the dentists said.

"Brushing and flossing after eating candy will help you more than anything," Neil said.

When brushing isn't possible, at least rinse your mouth with water, Stinchfield said.

"Anytime after eating, even just swishing with water is going to eliminate a lot of the sugar that's in the mouth," he said.

While the dentists are offering Halloween tricks, that doesn't mean they're leaving out the treats.

Neil and Watanabe said they hand out candy to trick-or-treaters who visit their houses. Stinchfield hands out chocolates and toothbrushes, as a gentle reminder.

"But everybody hates going to the dentist's house," he said.