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Halloween Candy: It's Not How Much Kids Eat, It's When
Date:10/30/2008

Prolonged exposure to acid in the mouth is the culprit, pediatric dentist says

THURSDAY, Oct. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Halloween and its avalanche of candy is coming, making it the worst time of year for children's teeth, right?

Not necessarily, says a dentist who contends that parents can make a big difference by monitoring when their kids eat their sweets.

"Parents need to know that frequency is far more important than amount when it comes to taking in" sugars, said Dr. Mark Helpin, acting chairman of Temple University's Department of Pediatric Dentistry. "It's not how much we eat but how often we eat these kinds of things that will place us at increased risk of dental decay and cavities."

Candy remains a huge part of Halloween for tens of millions of American kids and their candy-buying -- or candy-pilfering -- parents. The National Confectioners Association says 93 percent of children in the United States go trick-or-treating, and the group estimates that Halloween candy sales this year will top $2.26 billion.

But children -- and adults -- are less at risk of developing tooth decay if they eat sweets -- or even carbohydrate-heavy foods like potato chips and crackers -- at mealtimes, Helpin said.

Cavities are most likely to develop when your mouth is exposed to the acid created by bacteria during eating, Helpin said. "When we eat [at meals], the flow of saliva increases. We're also taking in other liquids that will help wash the mouth out," he said.

But if you snack during the day, the teeth are continuously bathed in acid, he said. "If I have four pieces of candy, and I eat all four at one time, my mouth will have acid in it for 30 to 60 minutes. If I eat one each hour, my mouth can be exposed to acid for four hours," he added.

So what should you do? The worst time to give kids sweets is right before bedtime, Helpin said. As for mealtimes -- like lunchtime at school --
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