Every time Halloween comes around, people crack jokes about the dentist. “This holiday is a dentist’s nightmare!” “This holiday is a dentist’s dream!” Et cetera. It’s inevitable. But when you’re plowing down half your candy haul in one sitting, it’s hard not to wonder what kind of havoc you might be wreaking upon that enamel. Insider asked dentists which types of candies they considered the worst for teeth, and cavity-prone readers will want to pay attention.
First off, let’s get the most important part out of the way: chocolate candy isn’t on the worst end of things. Dr. Hajera Ali, a general dentist in New Jersey, explains to Insider that chocolate “can be eaten quickly, dissolves fast, and washes away from your teeth easily after brushing.” Phew. (For me that’s a “phew,” at least.)
As you might imagine, any candies with a gummy or sticky consistency tend to linger on your teeth longer, causing greater potential for damage.
“Gummy candy is probably one of the worst (but unfortunately my personal favorite),” said Ali. “It sticks to your teeth and has to be chewed much more than other candy. The sugar is in contact with your teeth for a longer period of time, and sometimes it sticks in hard-to-clean areas like between your teeth.”
Caramel falls into that category too. However, one dentist, Dr. Joyce Kahng, said that there’s a caramel treat that’s slightly better for our teeth: caramel apples.
“Although the caramel is sticky, the apples are crisp and help to clean the surfaces of the teeth,” Kahng explains. “I think Halloween is to be enjoyed and I don’t mind indulging every once in a while.”
The other issue with sticky candies is that they can yank on fillings and crowns. We’re talking things like Starbursts and Now and Laters, which can pull on the surface of your teeth while you’re chewing. Another problem with those candies is the fact that they adhere to your teeth for a long time.
“These act like little sugar bombs that hang out in the hard to reach crevices of your teeth until they finally dissolve,” said Kahng.
How a candy will affect your teeth also has to do with acidity levels. The mouth-puckering sour stuff contains a ton of acid, so sour candies aren’t as tooth-friendly. Explains Dr. Aaleeyah Alim, a Chicago-based dentist:
“It’s all about balance. Literally. Keeping the pH in your mouth close to neutral (seven) is the name of the game. For reference: water, which is neutral, has a pH of seven and battery acid has a pH of one. Your teeth start to decalcify, or break down, at a pH of four. Some of the worst candy for your teeth is Wonka Fun Dip, Pixy Stix powder, and Now and Laters. The pH of those are all below two!”
You might think sugar-free candy is a safer bet for your teeth, but unfortunately, a lot of them are formulated with citric acid. If you’re chewing on sugar-free gum, that might possibly be just as bad as regular candy.
“Although these have reduced to no sugar, it can be argued that excessive gum chewing can result in faster wear of the enamel,” Kahng says. “I’ve also found that most xylitol candies are formulated with citric acid, which technically makes the candy sugar-free but acidic. People assume they are home free when choosing sugar-free candies, but an acidic pH can be just as bad when it comes to damaging the enamel.” Is nothing sacred?
All this being said, dentists say that you really shouldn’t refrain from enjoying your favorite candy. One piece of solid advice comes from Alim, who suggests you eat all the candy you’d like in one sitting rather than picking at it all day, and then swishing your mouth with water after you’re done.
When it comes to candy and all the other food-related vices we might have, it sounds like moderation is the best policy (even if it’s a boring one).