Preventing cavities on Halloween (and all year long)

Categories: Healthy Eating, Oral health

No one wants to take the treats out of Trick or Treat this Halloween. Least of all Maryjane Puffer, executive director of the L.A. Trust for Children’s Health and L.A.’s own “Tooth Fairy.” Puffer and her team at The L.A. Trust are dedicated to preserving the oral health of nearly 600,000 students in the L.A. Unified School District. “We see the damage that candy and sugary drinks can do. But there are ways to reduce cavities and still have fun.”

Puffer cites the American Pediatric Dental Association, which said that adults should limit what they give out (and kids should limit what they consume). Sticky, chewy and acidic candies are especially bad. Chocolate, pretzels, chips and sugar-free gum are better. And non-edible treats like temporary tattoos, stickers and toothbrushes are best.

The sky should not be the limit, according to The L.A. Tooth Fairy and the APDA. You can screen your child’s bag and trade up to a toy, or give excess candy to the Halloween Fairy to share with someone else.

The L.A. Trust has an entire team devoted to oral health in the sprawling Los Angeles Unified community and works in full partnership with LAUSD Student Health and Human Services staff along with university and community providers. The L.A. Trust team, spearheaded by Associate Program Director Stella Kim and Program Manager Esther Yepez, focuses on underserved areas, conducting events at dozens of elementary schools and screening thousands of kids.

Oral health a social justice issue

“The need is great,” Kim says. “About 50% of children screened have evidence of decay – a significant number have emergencies like abscesses or broken teeth.” Kim and Yepez use puppets with teeth and oversize toothbrushes to demonstrate proper brushing to the kids, but oral health is not all fun and games. “Oral health is essential to learning,” Kim said. “It is the most chronic disease in children, and it’s entirely preventable.” It’s estimated that an average of 2.2 school days per student per year could be saved by better oral health treatment.

DentaQuest, one of the nation’s largest dental benefits organizations, is the lead funder of The L.A. Trust’s oral health initiative. “Without their generous assistance we could not make a difference in the lives of so children,” Puffer said.

The L.A. Trust is looking forward to its annual Tooth Fairy Event at LAUSD’s 5K and Health & Wellness Festival, February 22 at Dodger Stadium. The festival attracts thousands of students and their families each year — top healthcare providers from Los Angeles and the nation will attend this premier outreach event.