Anyone who has seen the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” has felt the pang of jealousy as they watch each bright-eyed kid journey through a world of scrumptious candy. From fizzy lifting drink to lickable wallpaper, candy has a way of making children and adults alike feel happy as they ride their sugar high.

Can you imagine a world without these sweet treats? Sitting in a dark theater, watching the latest blockbuster, without a box of Red Vines? Or sitting around a roaring campfire without the joy of roasting marshmallows for the perfect s’more? Or trick or treating for vegetables? Without these delectable-tasty sweets the world is left to the flavors of liver and anchovies. Ok, maybe that is an exaggeration, but humans do love their candy.

However, human teeth… they tend to feel differently about an abundance of sugar finding harmful refuge among them. This doesn’t mean that you should stop indulging in your favorite treats, but being aware of the effect they have on your oral health is a step in the healthy direction. Plaque is the sticky substance on your teeth made of bacteria that thrives on the sugars and carbohydrates found in candy. They produce harmful acids that attack your teeth and cause decay. If this harmful acid is left on your teeth for 20 minutes or more it can lead to loss of tooth mineral, cavities, decay, and eventual tooth loss.

Moral of this bacteria story is to be proactive when you snack on your sugary treats. Brushing after is the best way to keep the bacteria at bay, but if you can’t brush right away, rinsing your mouth with water, or eating a piece of cheese can help rid your mouth of those sugary enemies.

Which Candies are Best and Which Should You Steer Clear of?

Let’s start with the worst:

  • Anything sticky – The stickier the worse it is. Things like gum drops, tootsie rolls, and saltwater taffy are professional cavity makers. The sugar contained in these types of candy tend to “stick” around in your mouth. The lingering effects are a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. The same goes for dried fruit. Although delicious, the concentration of sugar that they contain has the same sticky effect of chewy candies.
  • Lollipops and hard candies – Sucking on any type of candy only prolongs the buildup of bacteria and decaying acids in your mouth. But if you must enjoy a candy cane or butterscotch drop, make sure you brush your teeth immediately after to minimize the damage to your teeth.
  • Gummy candy – From gummy worms and frogs, to Sour Patch Kids and gummy sharks, these are the most acidic types of candy around. Acidity is tooth enamels nemesis. Once tooth enamel is lost it is gone for good. This can leave your teeth vulnerable to chips and breaks. Enamel is what insulates your tooth and lack of  enamel can expose nerves and make your teeth extremely sensitive to hot or cold food and drinks.

Now for the “best” candies:

  • Candy bars with nuts – Nuts have a way of breaking up the stickiness that most candies possess. They basically work like a built in toothbrush. So the nuttier the better.
  • Dark chocolate – Oddly enough, chocolate may be more effective than fluoride at fighting tooth decay. Studies have shown that there is a compound in chocolate that helps harden tooth enamel. Cocoa beans have a known compound in them that also have an antibacterial effect against plaque.
  • Sugarless gum or candies – Xylitol can be found in many of your favorite chewing gums and candies. It is a natural sweetener derived from the fibrous parts of plants. It does not break down like sugar and helps keep a neutral pH level in your mouth, which prevents bacteria from sticking to your teeth.

No matter how big or small your sweet tooth is, there are ways to enjoy your favorite sweets and still keep your mouth healthy. If you are among the masses who simply cannot say no to that delicious Snickers or bag of Skittles, make sure you are taking good care of your oral hygiene and avoid the bacteria filled consequences. Candy doesn’t need to be avoided, but understanding how it affects your oral health is a great start to a happy and healthy relationship with those oh-so-delectable treats.