Halloween is a time of year when we hear a lot about dental health, and for good reason — one public health expert in Alabama estimated that kids collect anywhere from 3,500 to 7,000 calories in candy in a single night while trick-or-treating.  But it’s not just kids eating all that candy and sugar. U.S. households will spend an estimated $3 billion on Halloween candy in September and October, according to the National Retail Federation. But it’s not just Halloween when we need to be thinking about dental hygiene. Maintaining good oral health is important year-round.

Why dental hygiene is so important to your health

Health professionals know that oral health is linked to overall health. The health of your mouth, gums, and teeth can impact the health of your body in many different ways.

Inside your mouth, there are about 700 different types of bacteria. Most of it is good bacteria that protect your mouth from disease, but some of it is harmful. When the bad bacteria has a chance to grow, it can lead to cavities, gum disease, and other issues throughout your body. Gum disease and oral health problems have been linked to:

  • Endocarditis, an infection in the lining of your heart
  • Babies born prematurely or with low birth weight
  • Higher risk of pneumonia
  • Diabetes, which can lower your body’s ability to fight off problems like gum disease
  • Osteoporosis, or a weakening of your bones

How Your Diet and Nutrition Impact Dental Health

These bad bacteria grow by feeding on sugars you eat and drink. Eventually those bacteria turn into acid that eats away at the protective lining around your teeth called enamel, causing tooth decay and cavities.

Most people would be surprised to learn just how much sugar they eat in a day. Many of the foods you buy in the store have added sugars, including foods you might think are healthy like peanut butter or pasta sauce. Beyond the usual things you think about that have sugar, like cookies and sugary sodas, some other surprising foods with high sugar include:

  • Crackers and pretzels
  • Dried fruits
  • Cereal and breakfast bars
  • Sports drinks
  • Yogurt

Eating a balanced diet that is high in whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy can help your mouth fight off bad bacteria and reduce the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.

Dental Hygiene for Children vs Adults

Dental care at every age is important, but there are some slight differences in care based on your age.

  • Adults: Brush two times a day for two minutes with a fluoride toothpaste, and floss at least once a day.
  • Children and teens (ages 2+): Brush teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and drink tap water that has fluoride, or take a fluoride supplement. Parents should help children brush teeth until about age 6 to make sure they brush thoroughly and don’t swallow toothpaste.
  • Children under 2: Brush your child’s teeth twice a day with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and plain water as soon as they have teeth. Talk to your dentist about when to start using toothpaste, and what type to use.
  • Babies: Wipe your baby’s gums with a soft, clean cloth after their first morning feeding and before bed.

Other things that can help with better hygiene for children (and adults) include:

  • Limiting sugary snacks and drinks throughout the day
  • Drinking water instead of milk or juice, especially around bedtime or naptime
  • Reading food labels to understand what foods are high in sugar

Keep Your Mouth Healthy This Halloween (and All Year Long)

Halloween isn’t the only threat to healthy teeth and gums. It’s critical to be attentive to your nutrition and eating habits for your dental health.