I get asked this one a lot. I have to admit, as someone with a sweet tooth, I’ve asked this question myself.
I couldn’t write this article without first prefacing that, of course, having no candy at all is the “best” candy (except for dark chocolate).
Just because a candy falls under the “best” category here doesn’t mean I’m condoning it — nor do I want to say that any candy in the “worst” category is something you should avoid completely.
But not all sugar is created equally and some candies are less damaging to your teeth than others. The next time you indulge, make sure you know the steps you can take to minimize the damage to your teeth after eating something sweet.
With that disclaimer out of the way, here’s how the best and worst candies stack up…
The Best Candies
1. Dark chocolate is the best candy for your teeth by a wide margin. Chocolate may be more effective than fluoride at fighting tooth decay, according to several studies, due to a compound in chocolate that helps harden tooth enamel. Compounds in cocoa beans also have an antibacterial effect that fights plaque. That’s why my patients get a dark chocolate square in their goodie bag when they leave the office after appointments. Stick with a high cacao content chocolate (70-85%) that ideally does not have soy lecithin in the ingredients.
2. Sugarless gum and sugarless candies, such as candies with stevia or candies that diabetics consume. Sugar feeds bacteria and upsets the healthy ratios of pH and bacteria in the mouth, so a sugarless candy comes in as “second best” here. I’m still not a fan because whenever you see the sugarless label, the candy tends to have other bad chemicals in it that are detrimental to health in another way.
3. Candy bars with nuts. Candy bars with a lot of nuts can break up the stickiness, and it’s the stickiness of a candy that increases chance of cavity, so having nuts (and the protein/fiber that nuts provide) can break up the “badness” of the sticky parts of the candy. Nuts can also break up some of the biofilm of the teeth. My favorite “candy bar” which I’ve found to be tastier than my old favorite Payday and extremely low in sugar — around 5 to 6 grams depending on the flavor — are the KIND bars. My favorite flavor is Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt.
The Worst Candies
1. Anything Sticky. The stickier the candy, the worse it is — that’s Jujubes, Tootsie Rolls, etc. The effects of these sticky candies will linger because they stick around, increasing the chance for a cavity. The same goes for dried fruit, which is just as bad for your teeth because of the stickiness and concentration of sugar. Stick to real fruit, which is far less concentrated in sugar and is packed with fiber and water that keep you full.
2. Lollipops. That’s because when it comes to how bad a candy is for your teeth, frequency of exposure is more harmful than quantity. If you eat the candy quickly and brush your teeth and it’s over very quickly — as far as your teeth go (not talking about blood glucose systems and the effect on the rest of the body) it’s much better than sucking on a candy all day long, like in the case of a lollipop. Frequency of exposure increases chance of harm to teeth – but if you throw it down the hatch and brush and floss right after, damage to (teeth only) can be minimal.
3. Gummy worms, because they’re the most acidic. Acid is bad for your teeth because it wears down the tooth enamel, which protects your teeth. This makes it easier for teeth to become chipped or broken. Enamel also insulates the tooth. A lack of enamel can expose the nerves in your teeth, which are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature of the things you eat and drink.
What helps me beat the holiday season of sweet treats is baking my own. Check out xylitol as a sugar replacement — I’ll be posting more baked goods recipes that use xylitol as we head into the holiday season.
Mark Burhenne DDS
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