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Don't sugar-coat it

With the arrival of fall and all of its natural glories, like the crisp autumn weather and the changing leaves, comes another arrival of sorts: a trip to the orthodontist after too much candy consumption. While heightened candy consumption can sometimes bring tummy aches and over-excitement, it can also mean loose braces, broken wires and cavities.

For parents and children alike, the time right around Halloween – when the indulgence of sweets, treats and food that's bad for braces is at its peak – can leave a bend in the braces and a dent in the wallet. Local University area orthodontists even anticipate a surge in "please-fix-my-braces" appointments and prepare their schedules accordingly. Dr. Chris Harris of Arkle & Harris Orthodontics says they expect to see two to three times more patients because of broken appliances and loose braces from eating sticky or chewy candies during this time of year.

How sweet it isn'tIt's inevitable that kids will be kids and that Halloween season means candy, candy and more candy. But if children are going to consume sugary confections, there are certain ones to avoid, especially when it comes to braces.

Orthodontists and dentists agree that with braces, sticky, tacky candies, like Now and Laters, Toostie Rolls and Laffy Taffy should definitely be avoided. Also topping the list are hard candies, like Jolly Ranchers, Gobstoppers and jaw breakers. These candies can easily loosen or displace bands on the back of the teeth (or on molars) that anchor the braces, bend wires and dislodge brackets, crowns or caps.

"Some 'safe' candies that have decreased risk of damaging braces are chocolate without nuts like Hershey's Kisses or Nestlé Crunch," says Dr. Tom Arkle of Arkle & Harris Orthodontics. Younger children are also at risk when it comes to eating sweets because frequent consumption of sugary treats can lead to cavities. "From a pediatric dentist perspective, candy is sugar. To the bacteria that form dental plaque and that cause dental decay, frequent candy consumption means a frequent food source to them which, over a period of time, can have devastating consequences to the teeth," says Dr. David Moore of Charlotte Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics.

Steps to sweet success There are many strategies and good practices parents and children can follow in order to achieve and maintain optimal dental health. "Starting good habits early, such as brushing and flossing regularly is imperative," says Dr. M. Danielle Funny of University Pediatric Dentistry. "Children up to the age of seven or eight have poor manual dexterity and it's important that an adult or parent is helping them brush and floss correctly."

"Practicing consistent good oral hygiene is key for long-term dental health," says Dr. Harris. He recommends spending two minutes brushing (each time you brush your teeth), brushing a minimum of three times a day and using a fluoride toothpaste. You can also supplement brushing with an anti-cavity fluoride mouthwash, which can help strengthen tooth enamel and prevent cavities.

In addition to oral hygiene, nutrition is also a vital factor when it comes to dental health. "The most overlooked strategy in preventing cavities is the frequency that individuals consume food and drinks high in sugars," says Dr. Arkle. "Having some candy in one sitting and then following it up with brushing your teeth is the best way."

A sweet dealAn alternative to feasting on sugary treats that could potentially harm teeth, cause cavities and damage braces is taking advantage of a candy "buy-back" program. The program lets parents and children donate their Halloween candy to dentists and orthodontists for monetary compensation. The candy is then given to military troops who are serving overseas, allowing them to experience a treat during Halloween while they're away from home.

Arkle & Harris Orthodontics and Charlotte Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics both participate in this program. (The buy-back at Arkle & Harris Orthodontics is November 1, 4-6 p.m.)

"In a nation where childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic problem and where juvenile diabetes is increasing at alarming rates, [this marketing's] effect reaches farther than just dental health," says Dr. Moore. "The buy-back program is a way that dentists can be proactive in the defense of good health care for children."

Not just HalloweenSo what do dentists and orthodontists give out to trick-or-treaters who visit their homes on Halloween? Toothbrushes, of course! Dr. Harris admits he's been doing this ever since he graduated from school. (He also gives out a piece of candy, as long as it's "safe for braces.”) Dr. Moore's office gives out Halloween-themed toothbrushes, as well.

Halloween is a spooky and amusing time of year filled with tricks and many, many treats. "Setting healthy boundaries for children about how much and what types of candy and treats they are allowed to consume is essential," says Dr. Funny. Adhering to the moderation of sweets should be practiced not only at Halloween, but throughout the year.

Dr. Arkle and Dr. Harris add, "Establishing parameters for how often and how much candy can be eaten is just as important as following it with a good tooth brushing session!"

More informationDr. Tom Arkle, DDS, MSD and Dr. Chris Harris, DDS, MS - www.arkleandharris.comDr. M. Danielle Funny, DDS, PLLC - www.universitypediatricdentistrync.comDr. David Moore, DDS, MS, Diplomate - www.cltpediatricdentistry.comFor additional information about the candy buy-back program,