Like any other kid, 13-year-old Shaun Selagea of Prospect Heights can’t wait for Halloween. And Shaun thinks this Halloween will be much better than last year, when his braces turned the day into a sticky disaster.
"Starburst is my favorite candy, but it was really hard to get out of my braces," Shaun says. "It got stuck in my braces. And this Halloween, it’ll be easier for me because I can enjoy eating candy better."
That’s because Shaun’s braces were taken off.
But for the estimated 4 million kids in the United States who are being treated by an orthodontist, Halloween can still be a fun day.
"Kids with braces can still have a good time, they just have to be more careful," says Dr. Lee Graber, an orthodontist with practices in Kenilworth and Vernon Hills, and who is on the board of the American Association of Orthodontists. "Halloween is a great time to dress [up], but you want to do it in a fashion where you’re maintaining a healthy smile."
Candy is bad for teeth. It can create bacteria in the mouth if children don’t floss or brush regularly after eating sweets. That bacteria, sitting in a child’s mouth, can lead to gingivitis and cavities.
"We want to make sure kids brush because they are more prone to catch food debris around their braces," Graber says.
Along with causing cavities, some candy can also damage a child’s braces. "If kids break a wire by eating harmful candy, they can add two to six months to the process because it causes the teeth to move in the wrong direction," Graber says.
So talk to your kids about candy and the damage. Graber suggests parents go through children’s candy—which is a good idea for safety as well—and remove the hard or chewy candy such as caramel, licorice, taffy, jelly beans, bubble gum, peanuts and popcorn, trading it for softer fare such as plain chocolate bars.
But there are alternatives to sweets. The American Association of Orthodontists has a complete set of guidelines and alternatives for Halloween as well as recipes for at-home goodies that are friendly to braces at www.braces.org/nohm/recipes.html.