By Andrea Lam

Happy Halloween! The Office of Oral Health would like to introduce new ways you and your family can enjoy the fun festivities, while still fighting tooth decay at the same time.

What is tooth decay?

Many people know that sugar is a main contributor to tooth decay (also called “caries”), but do you know how and why? Tooth decay is when the outer layer of a tooth, the enamel, is destroyed. This occurs when foods containing sugars and starches (simple carbohydrates) are left on teeth. Certain bacteria that live in your mouth use these carbohydrates for energy, which produces an acid byproduct. The acids destroy the outer layers of the tooth first. After a period of time, the infection can move into the inner layers of the tooth such as the dentin, pulp chamber (where the nerves are located), and even travel into the bone or face. The infection can also travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body. Understanding the process of decay helps us identify ways to prevent it from taking place!

It’s not just WHAT you eat, but how OFTEN…

How frequently you eat is very important because the acids that are released after eating work on the teeth for about 20 to 40 minutes. The greater the frequency of eating, the more your teeth are exposed to the acids, so try to limit snacking.

A Good Balanced Diet Is Key For:

* Healthy Gums: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Protein
* Healthy Teeth and Bones: Vitamin D, Calcium, Phosphorus

What Are Some Healthy, Tooth-friendly Foods? 

* Fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meats, fish, and eggs
* Low-fat cheese, yogurt, milk

Soda Packs the Dangerous Duo.

Soda contains large amounts of phosphoric acid and sugar, which speeds up the cavity-forming process. The average person eats about 90 pounds of sugar a year— that is about half a cup (475 calories!) each day. The single biggest source is sugary sodas, sweetened ice teas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and coffee beverages. Try alternatives such as water, milk, club soda, or tonic water. To learn more about how sugary beverages can affect your health, you can check out

How Can I Eat Sugar Without Hurting My Teeth?

* Eat sugar less often.
* Eat it with a meal.
* Watch out for the sticky stuff! Gummy candies, crackers, and chips can easily stick to tooth surfaces leaving unwanted sugar in the mouth for bacteria to use.
* Brush after eating.
* Make sure you are using toothpaste with fluoride and drinking enough fluoridated tap water to help remineralize the tooth surface.

Halloween Candy Buy-Back Program

Local dentists participate in a program to “buy back” kids’ Halloween candy by exchanging it for toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other giveaways. Operation Gratitude then sends all of the candy to U.S. troops deployed in harm’s way. Buy-Back dentists have found a way to keep the fun, while helping kids and our troops deployed overseas!

Find a Buy-Back dentist near you by visiting

The Office of Oral Health wishes you and your family and happy, safe, and tooth-friendly Halloween!

For further questions or additional resources, including where to get free/low cost dental services, please visit us at  or or call us at 617-534-2359!

Andrea Lam works in BPHC’s Office of Oral Health.