THE BLOG
10/24/2013 11:07 am ET | Updated Dec 24, 2013

Why Halloween Is Really a Scary Holiday: A Dentist's Perspective

I see an influx of patients after Halloween, but not for the reason you'd expect. Cavities don't form overnight; it's the parents I see with broken molars from biting down on hard candy, claiming they are saving their kids from the threat in the Halloween bag.

The problem with Halloween isn't the $1,000 per tooth it costs to rebuild these adult teeth with crowns. It's that these adults grew up with a tradition that perpetuates an unhealthy relationship with food and continue that tradition right to the door of the dentist. This dysfunctional tradition of binging and unbridled indulgence is costing us our health and sending the wrong message to kids.

I think everyone of us as kids remembers when we first heard that everyone in the neighborhood was giving out free candy, and that all you had to do was a wear a silly costume and disguise your identity to gain access. And we all wore the costumes. And we all amassed the insane amounts of candy. Oh, but "don't take candy from strangers," we were told the rest of the year. What a crazy and confusing childhood, and all in the name of tradition.

We spend $2 to $4 billion dollars on Halloween candy every year. I wonder what that translates to in dental costs, not to mention child obesity. Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in America, superseding Valentine's Day with $6.9 billion dollars in commercial sales each year. And it's growing. No wonder it's a scary holiday.

Parents, listen up: I may have a solution to this madness. I won't be buying back candy from my patients as other dentists do. I think that just confuses kids and gives the candy some artificial value (not to mention artificial coloring). And where in that dental office does that candy end up anyway? If I were a kid, I'd be thinking, "Hey, if the dentist is willing to pay for this stuff, maybe I just better keep it and eat it."

I suggest that you invoke the spirit of the Great Pumpkin. Okay, I admit, this works only up to a certain age, but it does work. It's been tried and tested by yours truly. My three daughters to this day give the candy up to the Great Pumpkin. They certainly enjoy some of their candy the night of Halloween, but the bulk of it goes into a bag and out onto the front porch to await the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. In all his great wisdom, he brings gifts like books and software, something I'd like to teach my children are real treats.

Linus and Sally of the Peanuts gang, who sat in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin, were ridiculed by Snoopy, Lucy and the rest of the gang. They missed out on the trick-or-treating and all the candy, and in the end the Great Pumpkin didn't even come. Linus blames it on his wavering belief in the Great Pumpkin and, with chattering teeth, ends up getting dragged to bed by his sister early the next morning. Linus was a romantic, no doubt, but he had fewer cavities than all the gang except for, perhaps, Snoopy (since candy is even lower quality than dog food -- really).

If your children eat candy, make sure it's under a controlled environment. Have drinking water available to them (to buffer the huge hit of acids that ensue within minutes of candy consumption) and a toothbrush nearby (for the mandatory tooth brushing session within 20 minutes of the candy consumption).

Moderation is key. Having fun on Halloween does not have to mean developing lifelong bad habits or dysfunctional relationships with food. Try to break the cycle of stereotypical "candy worship" seen in children by replacing that Halloween candy with a far greater treat from the Great Pumpkin -- a book, a CD, athletic equipment or a new bike or skateboard. And brush, floss, and drink lots of water afterward to minimize the hit to your mouth. For you adults that break a molar on a Worther's Original, I can only help you later in the dental chair.

So if for you on Halloween the treat is what's it all about, then the trick is really on you. See you next week, in my dental chair. I'm ready!

Mark Burhenne DDS