Sour candies pose risk of tooth enamel damage : Risk greatest when consumed before bedtime

By Shelia Shah
Macon Smiles

With all the candy coming from October’s Halloween holiday harvest, it can be an excellent time to consider some hard facts about your teeth – which may not be as “hard” as you think. Teeth are susceptible to wear and to erosion associated with acidic candies.

In addition to traditional concoctions of chocolate, caramel, and nuts, there has been a distinct shift in the preference for “extreme” flavor experiences. Popular candies with potential for tooth damage include intensely flavored sour chewy candies, citric-acid-laced powders, sour gels and sprays, and powder-coated gums. Citric acid, the most erosive component in foods and beverages, is twice as destructive to dental enamel as hydrochloric or nitric acid!

Closeup of candies with pumpkins after Hallowen festivities
With appropriate caution during Halloween, you and your children can avoid ending up looking like a jack-o-lantern.

While numerous studies have shown the erosive potential of soft drinks, fruit juices, and sports drinks, there is an emerging concern over the erosive effects of sour candy on teeth. The citric-acid-related fruit flavors of lemon, cherry, and grape comparatively destroy much more enamel than the near neutral aromatic flavors of cinnamon and mint. The critical pH for enamel dissolution is 5.5. Exposure to acidic foods and beverages with pH values below 4 can result in dental erosion.

Dr. John Ruby, a pediatric dentist and associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry, was convinced that the combination of extremely low pH candies, immature tooth enamel, and a high frequency of ingestion could cause serious harm to children’s teeth. Dr. Ruby tested pH levels of many favorite sour candies with startling results. Most of the sour/fruity candies had pH levels below 4, and well below the point of enamel dissolution.

The degree of erosion appears directly related to the acidity of the substance and varies by type of acid. Erosive potential of a particular kind of candy or beverage is a complex interaction of acidity, pH value, phosphate and fluoride levels, the type of acid, and its inherent calcium chelating properties. Salivary flow rates, duration of exposure, the frequency of exposure, and time of day of exposure can all affect the result. For instance, exposure to acidic foods/beverages just before bedtime has shown to be the most harmful.

The damage is irreversible and costly to treat. Early detection and initiation of preventive strategies are paramount in minimizing long-term consequences. Contact MaconSmiles or your dental professional for more information. Tooth erosion is undoubtedly not the “treat” expected from those candies with the power to do more than make you pucker.

– Dr. Sheila Shah proudly provides care for her patients through her dental practice, MaconSmiles, located in Macon, GA. She is a graduate of The Dental College at Augusta University and has practiced dentistry since 1995. Committed to staying on the cutting edge of advancements in the field of dentistry, Dr. Shah maintains memberships with such professional organizations as the Academy of Laser Dentistry, American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, American Dental Association, and the Georgia Dental Association.

SPECIAL INVITATION… LET DR. SHAH BUY YOUR UNWANTED HALLOWEEN CANDY:

Dr. Shah will pay $1 per 1 pound for unopened, leftover Halloween candy during the annual MaconSmiles Halloween Candy Buyback Event, which supports “Operation Gratitude,” where unwanted candy is collected and sent in care packages to our troops stationed overseas. This year’s event will be held at the MaconSmiles dental office at 4929 Forsyth Road on Thursday, November 1st, and Monday-Thursday, November 5-8, during regular office hours. For additional information call (478) 757-8714, or visit the MaconSmiles website at maconsmiles.com.

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