Healthy Halloween smiles

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- As Halloween draws near, children's heads are most likely swirling with thoughts of ghostly ghouls, creepy costumes and gigantic treat bags. The potential risk for candy-coated cavities is the last thing on the minds of little pirates and princesses. Sugar is just one of the ingredients needed to start the harmful process of tooth decay. 

So, how are cavities formed? They occur through repeated attacks of acid on tooth enamel. 

How does this happen? The cavity-causing bacteria in our mouths use sugars, found in the foods and drinks we consume, as an energy source. The by-product of this energy is a harmful acid, which causes tooth enamel to continuously break down until a cavity is formed. 

Cavities are a multi-factorial disease. In order for a cavity to form, there must be four characteristics present: a susceptible tooth surface, cavity forming bacteria, sugar and time. 

All teeth are susceptible to decay, including teeth that have already had dental work. Once we ingest sugar, the environment in our mouth changes immediately and favors cavity formation. This can last for approximately twenty minutes. With continuous eating or drinking, this environment remains susceptible to decay for an indefinite period of time. 

For example, it is better to quickly drink a soda than sip it throughout the day. Otherwise, you are continually bathing your teeth in sugar and acid. And, while foods like raisins, crackers, and low-fat chips are not necessarily bad for your body, they do tend to stick in the grooves of your teeth for longer periods of time. Therefore, it is ever-important to ensure that good brushing and flossing habits are in place. 

To keep that healthy smile and reduce the risk for cavities, teeth should be brushed at least twice daily for no less than two minutes. Flossing should be done at least once a day. 

Remember parents, children less than eight years old may not have the dexterity to brush or floss effectively, and may require some assistance. 

Let's all have a safe and fun Halloween this year! Your children can still enjoy their bounty of goodies. Just keep in mind good oral hygiene practices in your home can keep that sweet tooth from going sour. 

Ghouls and goblins are invited to stop by the Bitburg or Spangdahlem dental clinics on Oct. 30 for a treat.