Across the country, American neighborhoods are preparing for an invasion of adorable little vampires, wizards, Jedi, ballerinas and superheroes.
As a parent and pediatric dentist, I’m a big fan of kids developing good, healthy eating habits as young as possible. But as a former kid, I’m no stranger to the desire to cut loose, put a mask on and join our well-dressed little monsters in knocking on doors and eating their weight in chocolate.
I’m not saying chow down on Snickers bars and sour worms every day – or even every week. As the person who examines your kids’ teeth twice a year – and really, really doesn’t want to drill them – I love parents who promote good oral health.
But one night of fun for little vampire fangs won’t outweigh the good that comes from the chance for stressed parents to kick back and give a special trick to their kids to teach them the value of moderation.
The first thing to remember is that chronic oral health problems happen over time, and they require frequent and consistent bad habits. So parents shouldn’t feel guilty when Halloween night is over, the sugar buzz finally wears off, and well brushed and flossed kids finally drift off to sleep.
Your kids will remember the fun they had with you far more than their teeth will remember the sugar that hung out a little too long.
Second, you can play the parent version of trick-or-treat by giving your kids the treat of gum – and the trick that it’s sugar-free! Dentists like me have long promoted the benefits of sugar-free gum as part of an oral health routine.
The act of chewing generates saliva that helps clean teeth and rebuild enamel and even reduces cravings for more sugary snacks. As a bonus for parents, it may also calm things down around the house, as chewing gum reduces anxiety and promotes relaxation.
So while kids are blowing bubbles, you can be ready to sleep as soundly as a vampire at high noon, knowing that they won’t end up with any ghoulish cavities!
Once your kids’ sore stomachs recover and all the candy wrappers have been thrown away, you can take off the “I’m your friend” mask and be a parent again. You don’t want your kids pigging out for a week, after all. But the lifelong lesson you’ve begun to build is that balance and moderation are the key to all good things in life.
Remember, oral health doesn’t start with kids contemplating their 10th mini-Snickers bar on Oct. 31. Rather, it starts with the bigger picture of how eating habits impact gut health.
It means lots of low-sugar, low-acid fruits and veggies; plenty of water; and lots of healthy starches and meats.
Then comes oral health, including proper maintenance of your teeth – brushing, flossing, visits to the dentist, etc. – for those harmful bacteria that sneak in through even the healthiest habits.
Parenting is hard, especially with every candy company trying to trick your kids into turning Halloween into an all-year sugar-buzz festival. We have to figure out how to help our kids grow up without ruining their childhoods.
That’s why, once a year, it’s OK to unplug for a bit, put on your non-parent mask and relax as your neighbors open up their houses and fill up little plastic buckets. And don’t forget your best parenting trick yet:
Busting out that sugar-free gum and letting them go to town. You’ll get to let the worrying about good, healthy habits rest in peace… at least for one night.