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Will Halloween play a trick on your health? Dental hygiene is key concern

Elaborate costumes and sugary treats are the primary focuson Halloween, but health and safety - including the need for dentalhygiene - are also considerations for parents.

TORONTO - Elaborate costumes and sugary treats are the primary focus
on Halloween, but health and safety - including the need for dental
hygiene - are also considerations for parents.


When the little
princesses and zombies arrive home with bulging sacks of candy and
unload them on the kitchen table to count, sort and take delight in
their haul - 12 bags of chips! a full-size chocolate bar! - mom or dad
should be nearby and watching for possible problems.


Get rid of
homemade candy or baked goods that come from people you don't know,
Health Canada recommends, and throw out treats that aren't wrapped or
have torn or loose packages.


Fresh fruit should be washed thoroughly and inspected for punctures and cuts, and thrown out if any are found, the agency says.


“Remove choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies or small toys when young children are involved.”


In addition, people with allergies have to be alert for ingredients that could cause an adverse reaction.


Gobbling
of treats usually starts during sorting, and a Winnipeg dentist says a
back-and-forth between parents and kids about health considerations can
begin right then.


“It's a great time, or an opportunity for discussion about healthy versus sort of unhealthy sort of snacks,” says Dr. Robert Schroth, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba who also practises at two inner-city dental clinics.


“It's
a good point just to inform kids about, you know, sort of sticky,
really sugary contents versus maybe some more natural things.”


He
recommends that in the days and weeks to come, kids consume their
treats after a meal - whether it's lunch or dinner - and brush
afterward with fluoridated toothpaste to get rid of sugar that's
sticking to the teeth.


When someone eats something sweet, there
is a tendency for the pH levels in the mouth to drop, setting the scene
for tooth decay, Schroth says.


“For
the pH in the mouth to get back to its normal sort of regular pH when
no cavities can occur, that often takes at least 20 minutes for this
rebalancing to occur,” he says.


“So rather than having a kid
nibble on candies, you know, throughout the whole entire evening, which
would keep that pH very low for a much longer period of time, sometimes
all at once is not a bad thing, and then brush and that pH can get back
to normal.”


Jennifer Broxterman, a registered dietitian in
London, Ont., says Halloween is a special time of year when fun
childhood memories are formed, partly associated with a larger intake
of candy.


Parents can explain that “this isn't how we would eat
all of the time,” but let kids interact with the candy so they don't
feel as if they're being deprived or being treated differently from
other children, she says.


“It is OK once or twice in a year for
a kid to indulge just a little bit more,” but after the first couple of
days she advises reducing overall consumption and keeping portion sizes
more modest.


“We definitely don't want children having so much
sugar all at once where it's really going to spike their blood sugar
levels and be well beyond what they need,” she says, recommending that
kids eat a full meal first and use Halloween treats as a dessert - just
a couple of pieces for a four- or five-year-old and perhaps six to 10
pieces for an older child.


Halloween treats will undoubtedly find their way into school lunch bags, and Schroth has advice on that score too.


“Some
schools, actually we're fortunate that they do have brushing programs.
Other schools may allow kids to chew sugarless gum ... if a child can't
get to brush over the lunch hour, at least if they chew on that for a
little bit of time.” This will help remove food from the teeth and
stimulate saliva production, says Schroth, who typically hands out sugarless gum to trick-or-treaters.


Broxterman
says one or two pieces of Halloween candy in lunch bags are fine, but
suggests that kids not have free access after school.


“If they
come home from school unsupervised, that would be the first thing they
would go and reach for,” she speculates. Instead, she encourages
healthy after-school snacks, such as fruits and veggies, whole-grain
crackers and cheese, and yogurt.


Dr. Michael Kramer, a pediatrician at McGill University in Montreal, isn't too concerned about Halloween candy consumption.


“I
think it's a good thing psychologically - I'm not saying that the candy
is good for them - but I think it's a good thing for the kids and the
parents to let go for a day a year, you know?” he says.


“A
little bit of that candy every day for a year could certainly add up to
a lot of calories, but over a course of one day or a couple of days
it's really not going to make much difference.”


But Kramer
admits he wouldn't want his own kids eating sticky sweet candies on a
regular basis, expressing concern about the effect on their teeth.


“So it is a question of quantity and frequency,” he says.


“If they're having too much candy, they're probably not going eat so much at their next meal,” he adds.


Kramer
says there's no evidence that sugar leads to hyperactivity, despite the
myths to the contrary. A child would probably have to eat a huge
chocolate bar to actually see a measurable impact on sleep, he notes.


Schroth suggests that Halloween is a good time to reinforce the idea that everyone in the family needs to take care of their teeth.


“If
kids, little ones, can see mom and dad brushing after indulging in a
few chocolates or a few candies from Halloween, bring the kid into the
washroom as well, and as you as a parent brush, let your child brush
and ... lead by example,” he said.


“Oral care is part of overall body care.”


He
says tooth decay in very young children is probably the number 1 reason
for pediatric day surgeries in Canada, “and I think the part here is to
remember it is preventable.”

 
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