Halloween is tonight and I’ve got bags of homemade chocolate chip cookies for all the kids (and their parents, of course). If you look at the tips below about Halloween food safety, it says don’t accept home-baked items, and with good reason. But, number one, we only get neighborhood kids whose parents know us and two, I include a little note in each bag with the ingredients (no nuts).
There was a time when our kids were little that we only handed out granola bars because we thought it was a healthier choice. We were probably the least favorite house in the entire neighborhood. I asked Dr. Wyatt Traina, a prosthodontist at Prosthodontics Associates for some advice. Here’s what he had to say:
It’s that time of year again, and your children and grandchildren are going to come home fully costumed, their little arms laden with pounds of sugary, sticky, delicious candy. What’s a dentally conscious, concerned parent supposed to do in this situation? Short of depriving your successful trick or treater of their haul, here are some tips on keeping their teeth safe during the holiday season:
- Candy at, or immediately after meals is less damaging than a smaller amount of candy eaten throughout the day. The reason is that cavities are caused by the bacteria in the mouth, and the acid they create. The mouth has its own way to neutralize this process, but it needs time. If your child continues to munch on candy over the course of the day the mouth never has time to recover.
- Resist the temptation to have a child brush after acidic candy. Very sour candy tends to have a lot of acid in it. This acid weakens the enamel of the tooth. If a child immediately brushes their teeth after having acidic candy – they are at risk of wearing down their teeth with their brush. This also goes for candy eaters who take it too far and may vomit – hold off on brushing until half an hour goes by.
- Be wary of the sticky stuff. Sticky candy is the most dentally dangerous as it has a tendency to adhere to the crevices of the teeth and hang out causing problems. After your child has some sticky candy, try to have them brush or at the very least – rinse with some water.
- Try a sugar-free substitute. Some candy, gum, in particular, has a sugar free substitute. Offer to “Buy back” your child’s Dubble Bubble full sugar gum with a sugar-free alternative gum. The sweetener in most of these gums is called “Xylitol” and it can help fight cavities.
With these tips you should be able to have an enjoyable Halloween without ending up like a Jack-O-Lantern! Happy Halloween!
Dr. Meghann Dombroski, an orthodontist at mBrace Orthodontics in Falmouth, Maine also had a little advice about Halloween treats.
I think my only “words of wisdom” would be to understand that Halloween is once a year and a fun exciting time for kids. That being said, it’s important to explain that moderation is still important. One or two pieces of candy a day with consistent and proper oral hygiene is a good rule of thumb. In our house, we let the kids pick out 10 of their “favorite” candies, allow them one a day (after a healthy dinner), then donate the rest to a candy buy-back opportunity! The truth is, I think it’s more about the process of walking around the neighborhood than it is eating the candy!
It isn’t just kid’s teeth that Dr. Dombroski is concerned about. Childhood obesity rates are also a consideration, she said. According to the CDC, “In the United States, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s.”
Halloween candy is not to blame for the increased rates, but eating habits, in general, can certainly play a role. The CDC lists several factors that contribute to childhood obesity, including:
- Metabolism—how your body changes food and oxygen into energy it can use
- Community and neighborhood design and safety
- Short sleep duration
- Eating and physical activity behaviors
- A good meal prior to parties and trick-or-treating will discourage youngsters from filling up on Halloween treats.
- Consider purchasing non-food treats for those who visit your home, such as coloring books or pens and pencils.
- Wait until children are home to sort and check treats. Though tampering is rare, a responsible adult should closely examine all treats and throw away any spoiled, unwrapped or suspicious items.
- Try to ration treats for the days and weeks following Halloween.
Halloween and food allergies
- Halloween can be tricky for children with food allergies. It’s important that parents closely examine Halloween candy to avoid a potentially life-threatening reaction:
- Always read the ingredient label on treats. Many popular Halloween candies contain some of the most common allergens, such as peanuts or tree nuts, milk, egg, soy or wheat.
- If the ingredients aren’t listed, arrange for a treat “exchange” with classmates or friends. Or, bag up the goodies your child can’t eat because of an allergy and leave them with a note asking the “Treat Fairy” to swap them for a prize.
- Be aware that even if they are not listed on the ingredient label, candy is at high risk of containing trace amounts of common allergy triggers, because factories often produce many different products. Also, “fun size” or miniature candies may have different ingredients or be made on different equipment than the regular size candies, meaning that brands your child previously ate without problems could cause a reaction.
- Teach your child to politely turn down home-baked items such as cupcakes and brownies, and never to taste or share another child’s food.
Dr. Ryan also emphasized the importance of Halloween safety, in general. Here are some additional tips from AAP.
- Plan costumes that are bright and reflective. Make sure that shoes fit well and that costumes are short enough to prevent tripping, entanglement or contact with flame.
- Consider adding reflective tape or striping to costumes and trick-or-treat bags for greater visibility.
- Because masks can limit or block eyesight, consider non-toxic makeup and decorative hats as safer alternatives. Hats should fit properly so they don’t slide over eyes. Makeup should be tested ahead of time on a small patch of skin to make sure there are no unpleasant surprises on the big day.
- When shopping for costumes, wigs, and accessories, look for and purchase those with a label clearly indicating they are flame resistant.
- If a sword, cane, or stick is a part of your child’s costume, make sure it is not sharp or long. A child may be easily hurt by these accessories if he stumbles or trips.
- Do not use decorative contact lenses. While the packaging on decorative lenses will often make claims such as “one size fits all,” or “no need to see an eye specialist,” using decorative contact lenses without a prescription is both dangerous and illegal. This can cause pain, inflammation, and serious eye disorders and infections, which may lead to permanent vision loss.
- Review with children how to call 9-1-1 (or their local emergency number) if they ever have an emergency or become lost.
- Small children should never carve pumpkins. Children can draw a face with markers. Then parents can do the cutting.
- Consider using a flashlight or glow stick instead of a candle to light your pumpkin. If you do use a candle, a votive candle is safest.
- Candlelit pumpkins should be placed on a sturdy table, away from curtains and other flammable objects, and not on a porch or any path where visitors may pass close by. They should never be left unattended.
Home safe home
- To keep homes safe for visiting trick-or-treaters, parents should remove from the porch and front yard anything a child could trip over such as garden hoses, toys, bikes and lawn decorations.
- Parents should check outdoor lights and replace burned-out bulbs.
- Wet leaves or snow should be swept from sidewalks and steps.
- Restrain pets so they do not inadvertently jump on or bite a trick-or-treater or run away.
On the trick-or-treat trail
- A parent or responsible adult should always accompany young children on their neighborhood rounds.
- Have flashlights with fresh batteries for all children and their escorts.
- If your older children are going alone, plan and review the route that is acceptable to you. Agree on a specific time when they should return home.
- Only go to homes with a porch light on and never enter a home or car for a treat.
- Because pedestrian injuries are the most common injuries to children on Halloween, remind trick-or-treaters to:
- stay in a group and communicate where they will be going.
- remember reflective tape for costumes and trick-or-treat bags.
- carry a cellphone for quick communication.
- remain on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk.
- walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic if no sidewalk is available.
- never cut across yards or use alleys.
- only cross the street as a group in established crosswalks (as recognized by local custom). Never cross between parked cars or out of driveways.
- not assume the right of way. Motorists may have trouble seeing Trick-or-Treaters. Just because one car stops, doesn’t mean others will!
- Law enforcement authorities should be notified immediately of any suspicious or unlawful activity.
Ready? We are. And if there are any leftovers, guess who will be enjoying some homemade chocolate chip cookies? Someone has to eat them. Trick or treat!