"Fruity hard candies and sour bites with powder or gooey centers can lead to cracked teeth, punctured gums and tender roofs of the mouth," Martin Hogan, division director of dentistry at Loyola University Health System near Chicago, said in a statement.
"Every year right after Halloween I get emergency visits from parents with kids who have damaged teeth caused by Halloween candy. I hate to see my young patients suffer from painful and avoidable injury and their parents bear the inconvenience and expense of an unplanned dental visit."
Hogan said children want a big bag of candy at the end of Halloween, but some easy substitutions can still give treats that preserve dental health and Halloween fun.
For example, instead of hard candy, try snack-sized bags of pretzels or peanut butter or cheese-filled crackers, Hogan suggested.
"Pretzels or crackers give kids the satisfying crunch without the sugar and potential tooth breakage," he said.
Hogan's list of top teeth candy villains at Halloween and recommended substitutes include:
-- Bubble gum or candy-coated gumballs are what kids like to chew and they bathe the teeth in continuous sugar. Sticky bubble gum can also loosen fillings or other dental apparatus. "Choose a gum made with xylitol to actually improve dental health as the ingredient discourages dental decay," Hogan said. Xylitol is a plant-based natural substance with no chemicals or harmful side effects, he said.
-- Caramel or caramel-based candy not only coats teeth with a sugary wash but the chewy, sticky confection wedges in between teeth and stays there, promoting tooth decay. Instead, Hogan preferred Halloween-shaped wax items such as oversized lips or mustaches. "Wax lips, glow sticks, bouncey balls and washable tattoos offer terrific holiday appeal with no harmful health side effects," he said.
-- Gummy bears, worms and other fun shapes may be cute, but they also stick in teeth and can cause decay. Hogan suggested individual-sized character-shaped cheese or graham crackers.
-- Banana, grape and cherry taffy is no laughing matter when it sticks in the teeth and causes cavities, but small packages of pumpkin or sunflower seeds or peanuts taste good and do not promote dental decay.