Dentists Can Provide Trick or Treat Goodies, Too

Harold Katz, DDS


Halloween celebrates plenty of make-believe horrors, but it also can be very dangerous for your patients’ teeth. Nobody wants to miss out on parties and trick or treating, though. Dentists can use the holiday to offer delicious and fun goodies while helping their patients and their families avoid the risks that some tasty snacks may present.

The Worst Treats

First, be sure to tell your patients to avoid specific, unhealthy snacks—and don’t give them out yourself! For example, sticky treats like gummy candies, jelly beans, raisins, and caramels are bad for dental health. In fact, anything sticky is terrible.

Some full-sized candy bars contain high amounts of saturated fat. The worst offenders are Mounds (11 grams of saturated fat in a 2-ounce bar), Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar (9 grams in 1.5 ounces), and Almond Joy (8 grams in 1.7 ounces).

And, the Center for Science in the Public Interest voted Chips Ahoy! cookies, Hostess Ho-Hos and other snack cakes, Keebler Club and Cheddar Sandwich Crackers, and Starburst Fruit Chews the worst vending machine snacks for kids. 

Healthier Alternatives

If you’re looking for something to pass out to trick or treaters, there are many ideas to consider. Try individual packages of fruit or apple sauce. Even pudding is better than candy. These products usually are sold in packs of 4 or 6. Just break them up and give a cup to each child.

Boxes of granola, museli, cereal, and fruit bars work too, but watch out for the sugar content of some flavors. Thin fruit bars offer especially good value and can easily slip right into treat bags. Packages of instant spiced apple mix or hot chocolate mix work just as well.

Many health food stores offer low-sugar cookies that are trans-fat free. If it’s a warm night, fruit juice or fruit juice ice treats (as long as they’re 100% juice) might be a good choice too. There’s also sugarless gum, corn nuts, peanuts, trail mix, individual bags of pretzels or popcorn, packets of roasted pumpkin seeds, and pre-packed cheese and crackers.

Plain dark chocolate is better than candy. Make sure it has no cream filling or high sugar content. Some experts say chocolate even helps prevent tooth decay. It has certainly been proven that the antioxidants in dark chocolate are healthy.

If you’re throwing a party, there’s lots you can put into your guests’ goodie bags too. You can wrap different flavors of popcorn, homemade low-sugar cookies, little pretzels, and more in cellophane and tie them with ribbon. And while urban legends of pins and razor blades have made fresh fruit unacceptable for trick or treating, apples and oranges are perfectly fine for your get-togethers.

Non-Edible Treats

Or, you can avoid food. Invest in small games, kits, or novelties instead. Look in dollar stores, party stores, and toy stores. Buy in bulk if possible, and repackage your finds into little treat bags. The possibilities are endless, including Halloween pencils, pens, and erasers; stickers with Halloween themes; magic tricks; joke, puzzle, or maze books; plastic or rubber animals or figurines; balloons; party whistles; miniature cars or dolls; comic books; trading or playing cards; jigsaw puzzles; and crayons or coloring books.

Coupons for places like Dunkin’ Donuts are always a hit, and they give parents control over what their kids eat. Local zoos, water parks, and movie theaters also may offer coupons you can hand out too. Gift certificates are great for goodie bags at parties, though they’re an expensive option to give to kids who come to your door!

And maybe this sounds corny, but you can pass out miniature toothbrush sets. They are a healthy reminder to kids that brushing their teeth is really important after they’ve gotten so much candy. Some vendors offer Halloween-themed toothbrushes. You’ll probably be more popular with your neighbors, though, if you give out a treat or a toy in addition to the toothbrush. 

Options for Celebrating

You can avoid trick or treating by having a party. Kids can still have all the fun and haunting while you serve healthier food like pizza, dips and pita pieces, and fresh fruit. Focus on the games more than the food, and give out good non-food prizes. As an added bonus, you know where the kids are. If it’s a party for older kids, expect a lot of loud and scary sounds, very corny jokes, and unexpected ghostly antics. Plus, put your breakables away.

Or, spend your time, energy, and money on the decorations as the treat. Turn your front yard or porch into a wonderland that kids will marvel at. Use light and sound to greatest effect. Tell visiting kids that the display is their treat. It had better be good, though, or you’ll be in for a trick! This idea also can backfire, as kids usually expect houses decorated for Halloween to give out treats, and your big, attractive display may have them anticipating a big candy reward.

You also can work out compromises. Instead of banning sugary snacks altogether, try allowing a limited amount or making rules beforehand about how many treats your kids can have each day. If you’re hosting a party, kids may feel deprived if they don’t get to go trick or treating and you won’t give them any candy at all either. In addition to healthy treats, fun party games, and spooky decorations, make a small amount of traditional candy available. (It will probably still be less than they would get if they actually went out.) Give each child a goodie bag with some small toys, a mix of healthy and sugary treats, and a fun toothbrush. For very young children, see if you can find a small book about brushing your teeth to make the toothbrush seem like a better gift.

Don’t forget to teach your kids to practice moderation. Try not to make too big a deal out of the candy. A little candy is better than a long, sad memory of being totally denied treats at Halloween. Talk sensibly with them about diet, health, and good eating habits at all times, not just at Halloween, so that they grow up to understand the relationship between eating and body health. Help them to learn that some indulgence on special occasions is okay, as long as they don’t consume too much and they accept that treats belong only to very special occasions. Kids are perfect at understanding, and your continued support and good example are what they need the most.

Most importantly, don’t forget about oral care. Make sure they use a fluoride-based mouthwash that does not include any artificial colors or flavors. Toothpaste also should include fluoride, of course, but it should be free of detergents.

Dr. Katz is widely recognized in the media as the “final authority” on breath. He has been featured on Fox and Friends, the Fox Network’s Mike & Juliet Show, ABC’s Good Morning America and The View, and other radio and television programs. He is a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Dentistry and holds a separate degree in bacteriology, also from UCLA. He is the founder of the California Breath Clinics, the author of the Bad Breath Bible, and bearer of the Halimeter, which tests the sulfur compounds that cause bad breath. He can be reached at

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