This Halloween, the American Dental Association has some advice on dealing with decay-causing snacks and a new wave of vampire accessories sweeping the nation.
"Over time, if you don't properly clean your teeth, the results might be tooth decay, gum disease and possible tooth loss," said Dr. Ruchi Sahota, an ADA consumer advisor.
"Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on the teeth and gums," she said. "When these bacteria come in contact with sugar or starch in the mouth, they produce acid that attacks the teeth for 20 minutes or more. Repeated acid attacks can cause tooth enamel to breakdown, eventually resulting in tooth decay."
One way to deal with this problem is to eat sweets with meals rather than as snacks, and avoid between-meal snacks when possible. Saliva production increases during a meal, helping to rinse food particles from the mouth and neutralize plaque acid.
Besides how often you snack, the length of time food is in your mouth plays a role in tooth decay.
"Sticky candies like gummies and taffy adhere to your teeth longer than something like chocolate, which easily washes away with saliva or rinsing," said Dr. Sahota. "Hard sugary candies are held in the mouth longer, giving bacteria in the mouth more time to create acid that weakens tooth enamel."
Some research suggests that certain foods, such as cheese and peanuts may be "friendly" to teeth. So if you do snack, choose snacks that are healthy like fruit, nuts or cheese. Chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals has been shown to reduce tooth decay, because increased saliva flow helps wash out food and neutralize the acid produced by dental plaque bacteria.
The popularity of TV shows, movies and books featuring vampires has led some people to make other dangerous decisions about their teeth. Some have actually filed their teeth to points to make them look like vampire fangs.
"We strongly caution people against altering their teeth because of a fad," said Dr. Matthew Messina, an ADA consumer advisor. "Filing teeth weakens tooth structure and, if the person later changes his mind, restoring teeth to their natural shape can be costly."
Dr. Messina advises that if you plan to purchase and wear commercially available vampire-looking mouthpieces, wearing them for an extended amount of time may irritate gums. Food and other debris also may become trapped under the mouthpiece, leading to plaque build-up that can cause cavities and gum inflammation. These bacteria also may contribute to bad breath.
"Wearing a mouthpiece for a short period of time for a costume party is fine," said Dr. Messina. "Just be sure to brush your teeth after wearing the mouthpiece to reduce mouth bacteria."
To help reduce tooth-decay risk and enjoy Halloween, the ADA suggests the following:
- Eat treats with meals. Saliva production increases during meals washing out food particles and helping to neutralize cavity causing plaque acid.
- Consider chewing ADA-Accepted sugarless gum after meals. Certain sugarless gums have earned the ADA Seal of Acceptance for scientifically proving that chewing the gum for 20 minutes after meals helped prevent tooth decay.
- Drink fluoridated water. Optimally fluoridated water has been shown to reduce cavities from 20 to 40 percent.
- Follow the 1-2-3s of good daily oral hygiene: Floss once a day, brush twice a day and eat three balanced meals a day.
- Visit your dentist for regular checkups.