Tricky sweets: Those Halloween treats can be hazardous to braces

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Tricky sweets: Those Halloween treats can be hazardous to braces
By Christine Phelan
The Sun of Lowell
    WESTFORD — While most of us prep for Halloween with carvings, candy and costumes, orthodontist Jay Reichheld braces himself for what comes next.
    The broken brackets. Dislodged wires. The plaque, decalcification and swollen gums made worse by that inevitable "bath of sugar."
    For Reichheld, his brother, Stephen, and their business partner, Brian Ting, early November is marked by a flurry of emergency visits from young patients who've gnawed their way through Starbursts, Snickers and Skittles and actually broken their braces.20081020__TLife~p1_200

    And for those who thought braces were the domain of too-cool-to-trick-or-treat adolescents, think again: These days, orthodontia may begin as early as age 9, according to the American Association of Orthodontists.
    So should our young metal mouths keep from imbibing this Halloween?
    Hardly, said Reichheld. The key, he said, is choosing candy wisely and — you guessed it — brushing and flossing (quite possible, Reichheld insisted, even with braces) soon after enjoying sugary treats.
    "Having your teeth bathed in sugar is never good, but as long as you're brushing and flossing carefully, the impact can be minimal," he said, noting that he also recommends chewing sugarless gum after meals to spur salivation, wash away cavity-causing plaque and ease the ache of recently tightened braces.
    Certain candies are scarier for teeth than others, said Reichheld. For those with orthodontia, chewy sweets like Sugar Daddies, Laffy Taffy and Tootsie Rolls can loosen metal and ceramic braces of their bonds to teeth, pry off rubber O-rings, ruin retainers and cause wires to go, well, haywire.
    And hard candies and lollipops aren't much better than the sticky stuff, he said, though it depends whether they're bitten or sucked (the latter is preferable). Even jelly beans and other similar coated candies can nestle sugar into the mouth's nooks and crannies that are too difficult to reach with a brush.
    Any lingering sweet stuff eventually turns acid, biting into tooth enamel and causing, especially to those with braces, decalcification and discoloration — and perhaps more time in a dentists' chair, "something none of us wants," said Reichheld.20081020__TLife~p2_200

    And don't look to apples or other whole, crunchy fruits as a seemingly dental-friendly alternative. Biting full force into that crunchy flesh — or bobbing for it — can wreak havoc on braces. Snacking on sliced fruit is better, perhaps with a side of melted chocolate sauce or yogurt.
    The AAO also urges braces-wearers to avoid anything with nuts, caramel, popcorn or bubblegum, and to run screaming from hard pretzels, taco chips and ice, if you have a tendency to chew it.
    So what's left?
    Softer candies, like peanut butter cups and nutless chocolate, treats that Reichheld hands out each Halloween along with — wait for it — toothbrushes.
    "I don't want my house to get egged," he laughed, adding that he urges his own patients to "save the red Starbursts for your favorite orthodontist."
(c) 2008 The Sun (Lowell, MA). All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc.