Kids look forward to trick-or-treating every year, and let’s face it, parents don’t mind the chance to sneak a peanut butter cup or another piece of candy from what’s hauled in that night.
However, if they’re not careful, families may walk away with more of a trick than a treat.
It’s no secret that dentists shudder at the thought of the amount of sugar kids consume in the weeks that follow Halloween. This year, they’re warning families to take it easy, especially when it comes to hard candy.
While it’s not clear how frequently dentists see patients with cracked teeth after Halloween, dentists are seeing more cracked teeth cases overall since the start of the COVID pandemic, said Dr. Alan Law, an endodontist and president of the Chicago-headquartered American Association of Endodontists.
In fact, a recent American Dental Association survey found that more than 60% of dentists are seeing more patients with cracked teeth since the pandemic began.
“This is possibly related to more grinding and clenching,” Law said. “Because hard candy can cause cracks in teeth to propagate, it is even more important to avoid hard candy, as well as unpopped popcorn kennels and ice.”
Cracks allow bacteria to get deep into a tooth, which can cause inflammation or an infection in the tooth. This might result in a patient needing a root canal treatment. Other times, a crack can split a tooth in half, resulting in the need for a tooth extraction.
“As a general rule, any candy that cracks when you bite — think Jaw Breakers or hard sugar candies — will likely apply enough force to crack a tooth,” Law said.
Candy similar to these also carry high amounts of sugar, which can cause cavities if consumed over long periods of time, he said.
Dr. George Politakis, a partner at Compton and Broomhead Dental Center in Munster, said many patients do not realize they may have fractured teeth.
“Little, asymptomatic microfractures in teeth are very common and something most dentists just monitor,” he said. “Occasionally, those microfractures can become an issue down the road.”
Chewing hard candies can be the final straw that breaks or cracks a tooth, he said.
“Decayed teeth are weaker than healthy teeth, so what we as dentists often see is that chewing hard foods or candies can inevitably cause a decayed tooth to break and become painful,” Politakis said.
If a crack in the tooth gets larger or closer to a nerve, patients often experience pain while chewing food, he said.
While it’s unlikely kids will forgo eating the treats they collect this Halloween, dentists said there are steps parents can take to help ensure everyone’s teeth stay healthy.
“I can certainly appreciate the desire to sneak Halloween candy,” Law said. “I would say enjoy your treats, but in moderation. And, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t remind you to avoid snacking throughout the day. Each time we eat a sugary snack we are feeding the bacteria on our teeth, which can lead to cavities.”
Instead, Law advises to consume sweets in one sitting, then brush your teeth.
See a dental professional for an evaluation right away for any tooth pain as well, he said.
“Just like any other disease or infection, the earlier it is managed, the better the outcome,” Law said.