For people who typically hoard Halloween candy past Thanksgiving, here’s some surprising advice: Some dentists actually condone eating your Halloween candy at one time, rather than rationing it out over weeks.
That doesn’t mean eating lots of candy is good for you, of course—but it might be better for your teeth. After you eat sweets, bacteria feed on the sugars and starches left on your teeth and form plaque. Eventually, the acid in plaque begins to wear away at the enamel coating your teeth, forming tiny holes—also known as cavities—that grow larger and larger over time. “Cavities are a matter of having something to feed the bacteria—the sugar from the candy—and also the duration of time it’s in contact with your teeth,” says Anna Berik, a dentist in Boston.
For that reason, having one all-you-can-eat candy feast—then brushing your teeth right after—is actually “less cavity-causing than spreading that candy out over the next three months and having sugar in your mouth day after day after day,” Berik says. (You could also minimize damage by dutifully brushing after each daily piece, but Berik says that’s less realistic for most people.)
While portion control is certainly good for your overall health, Berik says it doesn’t really matter, at least from a cavity-forming perspective, how much you eat at a time. “The bacteria can only make the acid so fast,” she says. “At some point, there’s a threshold where they can’t really work any harder. It really doesn’t matter if you have one Reese’s or three.”
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Chris Kammer, a dentist in Madison, Wis., is also in favor of the one-and-done approach—so much so, in fact, that he started a Halloween candy buyback program more than 10 years ago, with the goal of preventing kids from dipping into their trick-or-treating bag over and over again. Kammer says he encourages parents to let their kids (and themselves) select a few favorite pieces of candy, then bring the rest of their haul to one of his 2,400 buyback sites around the country, where they can be traded in for cash before being shipped out to troops overseas. The going rate is $1 per pound.
“I never thought it was good, on any level, that a child would eat half a shopping bag full of candy over the course of a week,” he says. One sugar session, however, is unlikely to do much damage, he adds.
The best treats for your teeth are, surprisingly, those made of chocolate, Berik says. Chocolate-based treats melt quickly in the mouth, while hard candies, gummies and candy corn tend to stick around. “Something like caramel, that sticks to your teeth, is more cavity-causing than chocolate, which dissolves really easily,” Berik explains.
Just don’t forget to brush afterwards.