While children may get a scare from a ghost or gremlin this Halloween, it’s their sugar intake that should have their parents frightened, dentists warn.

Australian Dental Association SA Branch spokesman Dr Angelo Papageorgiou says tooth decay in children is rising, with more than a third of 6 year olds experiencing tooth decay in their baby teeth; and by the time children reach 12 years, nearly a quarter have experienced decay in their permanent teeth.

He says the direct relationship between the regular consumption of sugary foods and drinks and tooth decay is particularly concerning, given 7 percent of kids (9-13 years) consume too much sugar. 

“We understand that sugary treats play a role on occasions such as Halloween, which is coming up. However, we encourage that sugary treats be consumed only in moderation,” he says. “Kids who have tooth decay early in life are at considerable risk of having more dental disease later on. However, tooth decay is entirely preventable.”

Dr Papageorgiou encourages families to consider having a break from sugar the week before and the week after Halloween, to offset indulging in sweets over the holiday. 

He also says ensuring children don’t snack on sugary treats over a long period of time can reduce the risk to their teeth. 

“This Halloween children can still have their treats and lots of fun, provided we teach them the right healthy eating tricks. By limiting the amount of sugary treats children can have, and making sure they brush their teeth well before going to bed, we can make sure the only crooked smiles we see this Halloween are the ones on the jack-o-lanterns.” 

Other tips the ADA recommends to ensure that sugar related acid attacks on teeth are minimised at Halloween are:

• Rinse your mouth with tap water after eating anything sugary;

• Chew sugar free gum to stimulate saliva, which can neutralize the acid attacks;

• Check the nutritional information of snacks that are marketed as ‘healthy’ – many foods contain high levels of sugar. Examples are dried fruit, biscuits (sweet and savoury), fruit juice, muesli bars, crackers, cereals, flavoured milk, sweetened yoghurt, fruit bars, fruit slice, flavoured popcorn, canned fruit, baked goods and banana bread;

• Ensure that children brush their teeth well before going to bed; and

• Give children alternative treats, such as cheap toys and trinkets – there are many other ways to have fun on Halloween in addition to sweets. Use this as an opportunity to be creative.