The Hard Truth about Hard Candies and Your Teeth
The holiday season, from Halloween through New Year’s, is a festive time when we enjoy sugary treats, we might not consume the rest of the year.
From Jolly Ranchers to Lemonheads in Trick-or-Trick bags to candy canes hung on Christmas trees, hard candy can be found everywhere, but dentists and health experts warn parents and children to take care.
“Yes, candy tastes good, but it’s not so great for your teeth. The reason candy is harmful to teeth is that bacteria in your mouth burn the sugar, creating acid as a byproduct, explains Matthew Messina, DDS, spokesperson for the American Dental Association. The acid then dissolves tooth enamel, which is what causes cavities,” wrote The Healthy.
Hard candies, with their slow-release sweetness, not only pose risk for long-term tooth decay, but they can also lead to broken and chipped teeth which can cause immediate dental emergencies or lead to repair work after years of wear and tear.
We might think of our teeth as strong and durable, but they are not indestructible, and chewing on ice, handy candy (with names like jawbreakers!) or other hard surfaces can have an impact leading to weakened teeth, possibly even cracks and fractures.
Most Hard Candy is Nearly 100 Percent Sugar in Weight
Hard candies answer the call for those with a “sweet tooth” craving because most of them are nearly 100 percent sugar in weight.
Here are some hard candy facts from the Food Timeline:
- The English word "candy" derives from the Arabic "qandi," meaning something made with sugar.
- Modern hard candies, as we know them today, were first produced in the 17th century.
- Hard candies made from lemon or peppermint flavors were popular in the early nineteenth century.
- “Penny candy” made its debut in 1896 with the Tootsie Roll but hard candies were a staple of these small, inexpensive, unwrapped pieces sold by weight, and popular with children and those with limited budgets.
- Many candies, especially hard candies, started as medicine with lozenges, for example, delivering what was believed healing herbs masked by the pleasant taste of sugar, lemon, and/or mint
If you know your Mary Poppins, then you know the fictional nanny believed that “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine gown”.
A spoonful of sugar, however, especially one that stays in your mouth for a long time is not what the dentist ordered.
Hard Candies Last a Long Time, Increasing Decay Risk
One of the pleasures of hard candies is the fact that they last a long time as you suck on them.
“The longer a piece of sugary candy has to stay in your mouth, the higher the risk of tooth decay. Here are the worst candies for your teeth, according to the American Dental Association (ADA),” says GoodRx Health.
When it comes to the “5 Worst Candies for Your Teeth”, according to this video, the list is dominated both those sticky and sweet things that stay in our mouths for a long time:
- Sticky, tacky candies: This includes caramels, taffy, or chewy candies like Starburst or Airheads. Due to that sticky factor, these candies tend to get lodged on teeth and are tough to get off, even after brushing.
- Gummy candies: Whether it’s in worm or bear form, these gummy candies have a similar risk: getting stuck in the teeth.
- Hard candies: While your classic butterscotch disks or root beer barrels aren’t as likely to get stuck in your teeth, you do have to suck on them for several minutes, which leads to increased tooth decay.
- Sour candies: These usually double as hard or gummy candy, doubling the damage of those Sour Patch Kids or old-fashioned lemon drops. The sour factor is very acidic, which can weaken the tooth enamel and make you more susceptible to cavities.
- Caramel popcorn and popcorn balls: These treats and their little kernels may stay in your teeth for hours—if not days! All that time stuck between your two back molars puts you at increased risk for tooth decay.
Remember, your own body aids the hard candy in its attempt to decay your teeth because as you suck on the candy, your saliva fills with sugar and it continually coats all your teeth, leading to much more sugar exposure than if you had eaten the piece of candy quickly.
Colgate says sugar affects your teeth in the following ways:
- As in other parts of our body, mostly healthy and some unhealthy bacteria abound, filling your mouth.
- When bacteria stick to teeth, they form a substance called biofilm, commonly known as plaque.
- Bacteria in plaque consume sugar from the foods you eat and turn the sugar into acids.
- The acids can dissolve the protective enamel on teeth, creating cavities.
- The result is tooth decay and, potentially, tooth pain. If you don't treat tooth decay, tooth loss can result.
One Wrong Bite Can Create a Dental Emergency
If you think the solution to enjoying hard candies is to not make your “everlasting Gobstopper” last ever long … and simply bite into it … then you might be setting yourself up for a dental emergency now or in the future.
The habit of biting hard candies, like biting ice, or other very hard surfaces can lead to weakened, cracked, chipped and broken teeth.
Chewing hard candies over time may lead to tiny fissures that you might not notice at first, but will eventually lead to increased sensitivity to extreme temperatures.
Hard candies can not only crack teeth but are hard and can damage other oral appliances such as brackets, braces, wires, dentures, bridges, crowns, fillings, and even dental implants (like your natural teeth!) can be damaged by biting into hard candies.
You might not even think biting into the hard candy is causing problems because it leads to incremental damage and the long-term wear and tear will hurt the outer layer of your teeth, leaving your oral health vulnerable with avenues for bacteria to invade.
“When bacteria reach the soft dentin layer, it begins eating away at the tissue, causing decay. Decay can lead to infection which, when left untreated, can cause tooth loss. The sooner you treat a chipped or cracked tooth, the better it is for your oral health,” says Crest.