I think this must be a “trick” that Halloween is nearly here again. It seems like I was dressed up like a giant tooth only last week (I bet that is a scary picture for most of you)! But with the leaves turning color and falling off the trees, I guess fall has arrived, and Halloween is certainly a fun part of that.
Halloween, somewhat justifiably, has a reputation as the dentist’s least favorite holiday. (Although some of our clients tell me that I should love it based on their beliefs that it creates lots of dental problems for me to solve.) In reality, I’m not really “for” or “against” it. At our home we often hand out toothbrushes to trick or treaters as our subtle way of encouraging dental health, but I don’t believe that one day matters all that much in the big picture. (Or even one week or month, depending on how long people keep the treats around.)
I believe people’s dental health is built on a combination of genetics, “inheritance”, and habits. First, there is evidence that people inherit through the genes they receive from their parents a tendency toward dental health or dental problems – including tooth decay, gum disease, and crowded teeth. Second, we know that parents pass the bacteria that live in their mouths to their children, especially when they are infants. Therefore, if those parents have active dental problems due to the types of bacteria they have (and we know some “bugs” actively cause dental disease while others don’t seem to cause problems), their children are “inheriting” that tendency to have dental disease and that may actually be a bigger factor than genetics. (That’s why the healthier mom and dad are dentally, the more likely that their children will also have few problems.)
So, third, let’s focus on the habits that impact everyone’s dental health. We can summarize those in two general categories: self care and diet. And self care can be placed in three “boring” areas: brushing wherever the toothbrush can reach, cleaning between the teeth where a toothbrush can’t reach, and using fluoride to raise the resistance of teeth to cavities. I say it’s “boring” because none of this is new information.
The good news is that in the last few years there are some very cool gadgets on the market that help with the brushing and cleaning between teeth. They are fun to use, far easier to use than conventional brushing and flossing, and they are often far more effective as well. Ask your dentist or dental hygienist about them. Or, if you’d rather, call our office, and we can help with some suggestions. But please, don’t make this into the “trick” part of the season - ask BEFORE you purchase anything. Just as there are better and worse Halloween costumes, some of the clever looking dental gadgets are just that: clever looking. We want you to spend your loot wisely on something that works specifically for you! And often that takes some helpful coaching.
Clearly the category that is most relevant to Halloween is diet. Most treats given out at Halloween are actually “tricks”. They are high in sugar, often are also high in fat, and are almost always low in nutrition content. So staying away from them is desirable, BUT short term exposure isn’t likely to create dental problems. It would be ideal if those treats are eaten with meals because between meal snacks cause a larger problem than meals. And it would be great if they were consumed within a few days and anything left over was disposed of. Those two approaches, taken together, will eliminate any long term dental consequences. Even better, if these approaches are taken all year long, the trick and treat of Halloween will turn into a life-long TREAT for your mouth!
This article originally appeared in Dubuque 365ink magazine. It is republished with permission from the publication.