Dentists: Best and Worst Candy for Teeth

Best and worst candy for teeth

Our dentists and experts think through what candy to tell your patients to avoid during Halloween and other sweet situations. Are chocolates better than lollipops for one’s teeth? Read on. 

It’s that time of year when, in anticipation of Halloween, children choose their costumes, adults buy bite-sized candy in bulk, and the dental community braces for cavities. Some proactive parents ask their dental practitioners what to do with the massive amount of candy children collect when trick-or-treating. In considering the advice you give them—let’s not spoil all of their fun—Dandy turned to our dental community for their advice on the issue of how much candy their child should eat and what kinds are the worst for them.

Candy and sugar content

It is interesting to note that 172 million people celebrate Halloween in the United States, with an average of $102 spent by consumers on candy and an estimated $10.6 billion spent on the holiday in 2022. This amount is above pre-pandemic levels even though there is a rising cost of candy. It is up as much as 13%. What is compelling is the amount of sugar contained in some of the best-selling and favorite candies. 

If you are curious, according to Forbes, there are favorite pieces of confectionery by state. However, the top ten in the US listed with nutritional values are:

  1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (1 cup-8g sugar)
  2. M&M’s (32 pieces-18g sugar)
  3. Skittles (2.17 oz pack-47g sugar)
  4. Snickers (Mini 9g-4.5g sugar)
  5. Sour Patch Kids (12 pieces-24g sugar)
  6. Kit Kat Snack Size (7.5g sugar)
  7. Twix (1 cookie-8g sugar)
  8. Hershey Bar (1 Mini-5.2g sugar)
  9. Butterfinger (1 Mini-4g sugar)
  10. Nerds (1 Tbsp.-14g sugar)

Although these are a list of top favorites to give on Halloween, there are still others in large package mixes with higher sugar content. These small treats contain a considerable amount of sweetener that contributes to cavities or caries. For example, caramel (2 Tbsp-28g sugar), Jolly Ranchers (6g size-3.8g sugar), Saltwater taffy (7g piece-3.5g sugar), Caramel Apple Lollipops (18g size-11g sugar), Tootsie Roll pops (17g size-11g sugar), Hot Tamales (30g size-18g of sugar), Starburst (1 piece-2.8 g sugar). While the sugar makeup may seem insignificant in small amounts, a handful of candy multiplies it.

There is also the point that candy consistency or texture equates to increased sugar content. Unfortunately, the ”gooeyness” of the goodies contributes to the ability for small pieces to be left in-between teeth. When you have an inconsistent flosser or brusher, you have a higher tendency to develop cavities and decrease oral health.

What are dental professionals saying?

Dandy is not anti-candy. We realize that Halloween is a wonderful holiday that children of all ages enjoy. When we looked outside of the dental field for what other healthcare givers suggested, we found others were on the same page. 

Many doctors suggest letting kids eat whatever they want for Halloween—so long as it is checked and safe. Some doctors go as far as to advise that it is not about the holiday. What should be asked about is what the child is eating for the rest of the year. In a New York Times article, a Temple University obesity researcher stated, “It’s really not so much about the candy as the larger picture of what’s happening on all the other days of the week that really matters.”

One of Dandy’s dentists concurred and responded with the sage advice: “all things in moderation.” Dr. Barry Bartusiak, suggests that Halloween is “a beautiful holiday for the children and the neighborhoods to celebrate in a very unique way. Sugar isn’t bad in one exposure per se…’s multiple exposures. To the parents, I’d say…..keep the candy. Test it first! Some of those Snickers bars need to pass the parent test.”

Dr. Bartusiak is not alone. Other dental practitioners have similar views. One dentist suggested letting kids have their candy for three days and then either dispose of it or save it for later. Never let it be considered a reward. Healthy discussions help them decide when and how much to consume. Additionally, staggering candy consumption throughout the day or week only adds more sugar to children’s mouths and teeth. 

In the study “Positive association between sugar consumption and dental decay prevalence independent of oral hygiene in preschool children: a longitudinal prospective study,” researchers found that “grazing” was not good. “Compared to mainly eating meals, children who snacked all day but had no real meals had a higher chance of dental decay.” Frequent brushing is a great way to combat this problem, but scheduled meals that can include sweets are better than “grazing.”

NYU’s College of Dentistry and the Steinhardt School’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies go one step further. They believe overall health must integrate and include good oral health and nutritional habits. The NYU article “Sugary Snacks and Sneaky Sweets: Why Nutrition Matters for Oral Health” stated that it’s not just what you eat but also when. “Grazing, sipping sweetened beverages, or sucking candies all day means that you are exposing your teeth to a lot of added or natural sugar.”

Other dentists emphasize that it is not only the gelatinous “sticky” consistency of candy to consider. It is how long the candy stays in the child’s mouth. The longer the exposure to the sweet substance, the more prolonged sugar stays on the teeth. Dr. Bartusiak said, “The worst candies are those that are highest in sugar and linger in the mouth. Some examples would be caramels, taffy, gummies, pixy sticks, and lollipops.” While some chocolate may seem more sumptuous, it dissolves faster, not staying on teeth. It may be a good idea to emphasize that hard candy isn’t the best choice in comparison.

Additionally, sour candy has both sugar and is acidic. It is a double threat. Acid breaks down tooth enamel, and sugar feeds the germs that cause cavities. Stay away from them.

As for healthy alternatives, a family dentist explained that dried fruit alternatives, such as raisins or fruit leather, are not always better for teeth. A small box of raisins can contain 28 grams of sugar–close to as much as found in 12 ounces of soda. These are also sticky in texture and can be caught in the crevices between teeth. In the aforementioned NYU article, Jill Fernandez, director of pediatric outreach and prevention programs at the College of Dentistry, agreed, “Dried fruit such as raisins and fruit snacks are sticky and do not dissolve quickly, making a feast for germs to munch on and produce acid.”

How to give advice on purchasing and giving out candy

As a Dental Professional, you should give proactive advice in protecting patients’ oral health. It begins with what is best to consume. In a perfect world, sugar consumption would not be an issue. However, sugar is inside so many things patients eat, and germs are not particular where it comes from, be it candy or crackers.

The conversation is not much different from case acceptance—seeing is believing. Integrating pictures into the conversation can be eye-opening. Stressing that physical and dental health are deeply related, so eating the best for your body and teeth goes hand-in-hand. Show pictures and ask which tooth they want. Now, ask them which candy they would like the children to take from them on Halloween.

What is the best candy this Halloween?

Remember that candy that easily dissolves is the preferred. It doesn’t cling to teeth, causing cavities. Chocolate is at the top of that list. Some studies indicate that theobromine found in dark chocolate “makes teeth less vulnerable to bacterial acid erosion that can eventually lead to cavities.” However, dark chocolate is not as popular as Halloween candy.

Candy that includes nuts is also recommended. Nuts cause sticky candy to not adhere as well to teeth. They break down the candy’s attachment and prevent them from sticking around to cause cavities. You could also remove gummy textured treats altogether. 

There is always the option of sugarless candy. But they don’t have the same wide selection as sugared candy. Also, some sugar alternatives that are chemically based can have adverse effects on a patient’s health. 

According to dentists, the three main types of treats to avoid are sticky, hard, and acidic candy. Acidic and high sugar content is highly detrimental to teeth. Most of all, any candy that stays for long periods in the patient’s mouth, such as lollipops or hard candy, should be avoided.

Dental practitioners may influence, advise, and then allow their patients to make their choices, like a parent speaking to their children about the best candy choices. After that, the dentist can only wait for following check-ups to see if they followed suggestions.

Looking for more tips to help your dental practice? Check out our Practical Checklist for modern dentistry.