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Sweets hold a special place in our culture.  Popular festivities built around holidays like Halloween, Christmas and Easter often include eating handfuls of suckers, candy canes, and jelly beans.  But constant candy consumption can have a serious impact on your teeth and oral health.  If you’re not careful with the chocolate bars, sugar sticks, and lemon drops, you may find yourself with a mouthful of cavities leftover from your mouthful of sugar.

The Good

Candy consumption will not automatically rot your teeth.  In fact, the following treats may even contribute your oral health and protect your teeth against decay.

Sugarless Gum

Chewing stimulates saliva production and saliva, in turn, fights bacteria by restoring your mouth’s pH levels while rinsing away lingering acids.  Saliva also protects your teeth by depositing minerals essential for maintaining strong enamel.

Make sure to choose a sugar-free gum, otherwise the gum will deposit harmful sugars that counteract the benefits.

Dark Chocolate

Studies have found that cacao supplies a healthy combination of polyphenols, tannins, and flavoroids.  These compounds neutralize bacteria that cause bad breath and infections, and they even keep harmful microorganisms from sticking to your teeth.

Dark chocolate undergoes the least amount of processing, so it retains the most antioxidants while containing the least amount of sugar.  For the best benefits, look for chocolates that offer more than 70% cacao.  For example, Lindt Supreme Dark Chocolate contains 90% cacao, Ghiradelli Midnight Revere Intense Dark Chocolate has 86% and Trader Joe’s Cacao Dark Chocolate features 73%.

The Bad

Some treats only cause minimal damage to your teeth.  For example, candies that dissolve quickly or contain nuts are less aggressive in relation to your oral health when consumed in moderation and with caution.

Candy With Nuts

Nuts contain good amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and dietary fiber.  Calcium supports healthy bones while vitamin D promotes calcium absorption.  The fiber stimulates saliva production, and it helps break up the stickiness from the rest of the candy.

Just remember that some nuts are hard enough to chip or crack teeth.  Chew slowly, and opt for brands with smaller nut pieces, such as Snickers or Baby Ruth, rather than whole ones, such as Almond Joy.

Fast-Dissolving Candy

The bacteria in your mouth eat the same carbohydrates you do.  Whenever you eat, the sugar sticks to your teeth, providing a feast for the bacteria.  As the bacteria eat, they produce acids which erode your tooth enamel.  The longer the sugar sticks to your teeth, the more you feed the bacteria and the more your enamel wears away.

To minimize damage to your teeth, consider candies that dissolve quickly in your mouth, such as Smarties or Pixie Sticks.  Although these candies supply a lot of sugar, you can rinse away the residue by drinking water after you snack.

The Ugly

Some candy can wreak havoc on your teeth, especially if you eat them in large quantities or on a regular basis.  Watch out for these snacks if you want to keep your teeth in great shape.

Sticky, Gooey, or Chewy Candy

Chewy taffy, gooey coconut treats, and sticky caramel cling to your teeth long after you’ve swallowed the last bite.  And because of their viscous nature, they can easily slide into the tiny grooves and crevices of your teeth where your toothbrush can’t easily reach.

Additionally, some candies are so sticky and stiff that they can pull out dental crowns and fillings as you chew.  If you don’t exercise care, you may need to schedule an emergency dental appointment after eating Bit O’ Honey or Sugar Daddy.

Suckers and Hard Candy

As mentioned above, the longer sugars stay on your teeth, the more acids bacteria produce in your mouth, increasing the risk for cavities and decay.  While some suckers and hard candies seem harmless due to their low calorie and manageable sugar content, their slow-to-dissolve design means your teeth have to sit in an acidic bath for extended periods.

If you try to hurry the consumption process along hard candies pose just as much threat to your teeth as nuts.  If you crunch prematurely into a jawbreaker or Werther’s Original, you may crack or chip a tooth.

Talk to Your Dentist About Healthy Alternatives

You don’t have to give up candy entirely if you want healthy teeth.  A little moderation and careful selection can go a long way toward satisfying your sweet tooth without contributing to cavities.

However, you will want to keep schedule regular appointments with your dentist if you eat candy on a regular basis.