Trick or Treat … or Cavities?

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Like many of our wintertime holidays, Halloween — with its candy and parties and excess — could be seen as a glutton’s paradise. But that’s part of its attraction. It’s a child’s holiday — dress up in funny outfits and eat too much candy. It’s also a holiday that puts parents in a bind. Let them eat till they’re sick or be a killjoy who runs around confiscating a child’s Reese’s Cups?

Moderation and rules are not characteristics we often associate with Halloween, but, say child health experts, the holiday can be a good time to teach your kids important lessons about nutrition and dental care.

“On the positive side, if you let them eat it all at once, they’ll get rid of it,” says Jim Steiner, DDS, a dentist who practices at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio. “Nutritionists would hit me over the head for saying so, but from the dentist’s perspective it’s best to get it all over at once, so the kids don’t get endless exposure to acid-forming bacteria.”

And Steiner is right. Dietitians are never in favor of parents aiding and abetting a major binge, even if it is a holiday.

“I don’t want to come across as a stick-in-the-mud,” says Maureen Kilfoil, RD, LD, a dietitian who, like Steiner, works at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “It’s a fun holiday and kids should be able to enjoy it. But parents need to curb kids’ tendencies to overdo it. Parents need to be parents and set the rules. Let them have their treats, but put some limits on their consumption.”

Avoid Tooth Decay

“In general, I tell parents that kids who eat many times a day are at higher risk of teeth, are also available in any dentist’s office.

Steiner says he recommends children have their first checkup between one and two years of age with a pediatric dentist.

Discuss Obesity

Of course, obesity, and holiday times too often send the message that overeating is OK,” she says.

Obesity is the leading cause of pediatric high blood pressure and food allergy.

“The message we want children to take away is that moderation is good,” she says. “It’s fine to have your candy, but have it with meals. You don’t have to eat to excess to enjoy the holiday.”