If you ask your dentist, the spookiest thing about Halloween is the damage all that candy can do to your teeth. But experts say trick-or-treat sweets aren't quite so sweet when it comes to oral-health havoc. "The worst candies for your teeth are sticky (think caramel and gummy), and acidic (think sour)," warns Dr. Mitali Hariawala, a dental adviser with Quip, an oral-health subscription service.
Before chocolate lovers breathe a sigh of relief, remember that it's still loaded with sugar. "No matter what Halloween candy you enjoy, it is imperative to brush your teeth after, as sugar creates a breeding ground for bacteria that cause cavities," Hariawala warns. That said, you may want to steer clear of these 14 Halloween treats.
You either love it or you hate it, and it's safe to assume dentists are in the latter camp. There are 28 grams of sugar in just 19 little pieces of Brach's Classic Candy Corn, and bits of it easily get lodged between teeth. "This candy's main ingredients are corn syrup and sugar, both of which will result in tooth decay," says Dr. Adam Harwood, an endodontist in New York City. "In addition, the bacteria that feed on the sugar ... produce acid-eroding materials that damage the teeth."
You may love Sour Patch Kids, Lemon Heads, or any other super-sour candy that makes you pucker up, but your dentist doesn't. "Sour candies tend to be more acidic, which can weaken and damage the hard outer shell of your teeth known as enamel," says Dr. Gary Glassman, an endodontist in Toronto. "This makes your teeth more vulnerable to cavities."
Dentists are divided on these powdery classics. On one hand, they dissolve and wash away quickly, which means there's less time for them to damage your teeth. On the other hand, they have pH levels that are so low -- 1.9 and 1.8, respectively -- that they're almost as acidic as battery acid, experts tell Gizmodo. (Tooth decay begins around a pH of 4.) So if you have to have your powdered candy, make sure you don't try to savor it.
Lollipops seem innocent enough, but the fact that we savor them so long makes them particularly bad for the teeth, experts say. "Cavity-causing bacteria (get) a longer time to ruminate, increasing your risk of tooth decay," Glassman warns. Moral of the story: It takes way too many licks to get to the center of that Tootsie Pop. Go sugar-free in this category if you can.
Steer clear of these and other hard candies for the same reason that you ditch lollipops: Sucking on them for so long gives all that sugar longer to eat away at your teeth. Jolly Ranchers are particularly notable since you'll find them in almost every trick-or-treat bag; just three small pieces have 11 grams of sugar. "We tend to suck all of the sugar off of these type of candies, allowing the sugar to damage our teeth while we enjoy the taste," Harwood says.
The reason dentists hate these candies is pretty clear from their name. "They can chip or crack teeth," warns Dr. Leslie Renee Townsend, a Dallas-based dentist. And while it should go without saying, kids with braces should definitely steer clear. "If you try to bite into those, you're probably going to knock your brackets off," warns Dr. Jamie Reynolds, a Detroit orthodontist.
Townsend calls hard-but-chewy candies like Now and Laters "a double punch to teeth." Why? "They take time to dissolve and leave teeth coated in a sugary film, and are hard enough to chip teeth." Any sort of harder taffy candy would pose a similar risk, experts say.
You aren't safe just because Airheads are softer than Now and Laters. "Its chewy, taffy-like texture makes it hard to remove from teeth even when brushing," Harwood says. "The leftovers leave cavity-causing bacteria lingering in the mouth." Licorice, jelly beans, and gummy bears would also fall in this category.
"Milk chocolate causes cavities and tooth decay -- and the caramel is sticky and hard to get off of your teeth from saliva or a drink of water, causing more bacteria and acids to grow," Harwood says. If you've got to have chocolate, Glassman recommends chocolate without any fillings. Dark chocolate is best since it has a lower sugar content and won't linger on the teeth as long.
Though dried fruit may seem like a healthier treat to enjoy on Halloween, that's not the case for your teeth. It's just as bad for your teeth as candy "because of the stickiness and concentration of sugar," says Dr. Mark Burhenne of AsktheDentist. "Stick to real fruit, which is far less concentrated in sugar and is packed with fiber and water that keep you full."
There's no escaping Tootsie Rolls at Halloween, but Burhenne wishes there were. "These sticky candies will linger because they stick around, increasing the chance for a cavity," he cautions. There's also no shortage of sugar here: There are 19 grams of the stuff in just five of the small "midgee" pieces likely to show up in trick-or-treat bags.
Often given out as a trick-or-treat candy alternative, popcorn and popcorn balls pose a big risk for kids with braces, Reynolds cautions. "Part of the band extends below the gum, and the popcorn can get wedged between the gum and band, creating a gum infection," he warns. Popcorn balls are a double-whammy because they're usually held together with sticky caramel or corn syrup.
This popular candy is responsible for another one-two punch, Harwood says. "The sugar deteriorates enamel, and the gummy texture sticks to our teeth and gums, doubling up on the damage done," he says. "These substances can literally pull the fillings and crowns out of our teeth. They are very similar to materials the dentist may use to remove old crowns when replacing them."
Chewing gum can stimulate the production of saliva that helps wash away cavity-causing food particles, notes Colgate. Unfortunately, sugar-sweetened bubble gum like trick-or-treat favorite Dubble Bubble still does more harm than good. Glassman recommends sugar-free gum containing xylitol instead. "Xylitol may actually protect the teeth by reducing the acids produced by bacteria and increase saliva that rinses away excess sugars and acids," he says.