By RHETT FAGG, guest columnist
It’s October. And if you’ve got goblins, ghosts, pirates, “Frozen” characters, minions and otherwise-costumed trick-or-treaters in your household, this is for you.
I’m a retired pediatric dentist, and yes, I still have all my fingers and my sense of humor after almost 40 years of fighting dental decay in the youngsters of northwest Indiana.
With my diplomas, certifications and teaching credentials at Northwestern, I have a lot of dental information rolling around in my head. But here’s the one thing most people want to know:
“What do I do with all the Halloween candy my kids get?”
Desperate, curious parents have approached me in church, at the gas station and in the mall to ask this important question.
And I say: “Just eat it!”
In addition to my dentistry work, some of my best experience comes from being “Dad” to five (now grown) children and “Poppy” to nine grandchildren.
Our kids were great trick-or-treaters and we loved the imagination and excitement of the season. The candy was a real treat since we were pretty much sugar-free the rest of the year.
Our costumed kids dumped their buckets of loot on the family room floor for the sorting process:
Step 1: Gum, suckers and hard candies were thrown out. These products just bathe the teeth in sugar.
Step 2: My wife, who usually helped make the costumes, extracted the peanut butter cups for her own enjoyment.
Step 3: The rest of the candy was put back in the buckets and tucked on the refrigerator (out of the dog’s reach). The kids were allowed to binge on it after supper until it was gone, usually in a matter of days.
Step 4 (repeat as needed): Serious tooth brushing was done before bed as usual.
After a few days of gluttony, the goodies were gone!
What did my wife and I hand out for treats? As a pediatric dentist, it was against my nature to give out candy, so we gave out a variety of small toys, rings and bouncy balls, allowing the kids to pick from trays on the porch. Through the years, our home became one of the most popular in the neighborhood, with kids returning year after year to see the current selection.
Were my kids deprived, living in a mostly sugar-free home and gobbling up Halloween treats in just a few days? Nope. You can ask them, and they will answer you through cavity-free teeth.
Our kids and grandkids snack on veggies and fruit, and drink water. I watched our little Hazel, age 5, try her first soda recently. Her nose wrinkled and her eyes squinted and she gasped, “Ooh, this is intense!”
Do they get sweet stuff sometimes? Yes, though rarely, and tooth brushing is as important to them as breathing.
Halloween candy matters because teeth matter. Your child’s teeth will help him speak, eat his food and smile, so keeping teeth and gums healthy and sugar-free is important.
Tooth decay is the single most common childhood disease, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Decay, or dental cavities, can begin as early as age 1. That can cause pain, infections, difficulty in eating or speaking, and early tooth loss, which in turn causes difficulty for erupting permanent teeth.
Sugar feeds the bacteria that cause decay, and sugar is prevalent in so many foods and drinks today.
And it may not be boldly labeled “sugar.” Prevention.com identifies 10 names for sugars, including such innocent-sounding stuff as fruit juice, fruit-juice concentrate and agave nectar. And the “-oses,” as in fructose, maltose, dextrose and lactose, are all sugars, too.
Dental decay is largely preventable in your children and in you, the adult. It is important to keep the mouth clean, so wipe your baby’s gums with a soft cloth, which will clean his mouth and also acclimate him to your hygiene help.
When those precious baby teeth erupt, clean them with a cloth or soft bristled brush and just an “eighth of a pea” dab of toothpaste.
As your child grows, help him with tooth brushing and flossing until he has the dexterity to clean those teeth thoroughly. That may be age 7, or it may be older, depending on the child.
And limit sweets! Cavity-free children are possible!
So let your kids enjoy that Halloween candy, quickly. Make sure they brush and floss their teeth well.
Then, stay away from sugar in all its forms. Candy, energy drinks and pop are just sweet, empty calories — and a waste of money.
Visit the Mouth Monster website, by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, for age-related guidelines of oral health and other motivation for healthy smiles, and the Academy’s website, too.
Enjoy the season, and smile!
This column was “ghost”written by Marilyn Fagg, on behalf of her spouse, Rhett Fagg, DDS., MSD., who retired from pediatric dentistry in 2014. She ghosted many articles for him in the Michigan City, Indiana newspaper, where he worked, because he has so much good information for parents about their children’s dental health. Rhett and Marilyn live in the woods north of Nashville.