This Halloween, many dentists are telling parents that it is okay to let kids gorge themselves on candy.
There's no reason to be spooked. Dentists aren't hoping to make money on the inevitable windfall of rotting teeth. The fact is, if you're going to eat candy, gorging is far better for your teeth than rationing.
Slowly snacking on Halloween candy every few hours, day after day, keeps your teeth bathed in enamel-corroding acid, the byproduct of bacteria feeding on sugar and other carbohydrates in your mouth. This leads to dental caries, or cavities.
For example, as far as oral hygiene goes, it is better to eat five candy bars at once than to eat one every few hours. In the first scenario, acid will build up in your mouth, but your saliva will naturally neutralize this over the course of an hour or so. And then that acid is gone. In the second scenario, you are constantly exposing your teeth to acid throughout the day, too much for saliva to wash away.
Gorging also is better, because it is more likely to be followed by tooth-brushing. People, and especially children, are less likely to brush their teeth after every candy bar, particularly if they aren't at home.
Potato chips are worse
Candy is not necessarily the worst thing for your teeth, anyway. The factors that really lead to cavities are stickiness and acidity. Potato chips and pretzels, for example, are worse offenders than chocolate, because these cooked carbohydrates cling to your teeth — giving mouth bacteria something to feast on longer and thus generating more acid.
Although it sounds counterintuitive, substituting chocolate for so-called healthier chips or fruit chews is actually worse for the teeth.
Among candy, the sticky and sour kinds are the worst for your teeth. Those gummies that stay lodged in a molar till Thanksgiving are nothing but trouble. Sour candy tends to have more acid, so sour-tasting gummies are a double-whammy. [The Best and Worst Trick-or-Treat Candy]
Sugar high and low
Of course, all this "good news" about candy only applies to oral health. Aside from the generous 2 percent of the recommended daily allowance of iron in a Kit Kat bar, and 1 percent vitamin A, candy is largely devoid of nutrients and constitutes empty calories. The aforementioned Kit Kat contains more than 200 calories per serving, twice the calories found in a large apple.
Some children are so obese that they suffer from pre-diabetes or even full-fledged type 2 diabetes, which traditionally only has affected adults. These children shouldn't be eating any candy.
Oral health is nothing to neglect, though. Tooth decay and gum disease are major public health problems, associated with poor digestion, heart attacks, strokes and cancers, stemming from inflammation and subsequent infections.
If you think candy is the only unhealthy element of Halloween, consider this: Halloween is one of the top three major nights for dangerous binge drinking, along with New Year's Eve and St. Patrick's Day, according to an article published last year in the Journal of American College Health.
On a positive note, 10 beers will wash away even the most stubborn gummies.
Christopher Wanjek is the author of the books "Bad Medicine" and "Food At Work." His column, Bad Medicine, appears regularly on LiveScience.
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Christopher Wanjek is a Live Science contributor and a health and science writer. He is the author of three science books: Spacefarers (2020), Food at Work (2005) and Bad Medicine (2003). His "Food at Work" book and project, concerning workers' health, safety and productivity, was commissioned by the U.N.'s International Labor Organization. For Live Science, Christopher covers public health, nutrition and biology, and he has written extensively for The Washington Post and Sky & Telescope among others, as well as for the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he was a senior writer. Christopher holds a Master of Health degree from Harvard School of Public Health and a degree in journalism from Temple University.