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Good Question: Does Candy Really Rot Your Teeth?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
Jason DeRusha filed his first report for WCCO-TV on April Fool's D...
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CBS Minnesota (con't)

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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — If you have kids, you almost certainly have giant buckets of Halloween candy in your house. And you’ve probably warned your kids already about the dangers of eating too much of that candy. But does candy really rot your teeth or is it more about heredity?

“Candy’s bad — potentially bad — for your teeth, but it depends how you consume it,” said Dr. Gary Hildebrandt, professor and researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.

As for the theory from Jason DeRusha’s mother that a lot of candy can rot his teeth:

“It is true. But when she said ‘a lot,’ she meant ‘frequently.’ It’s not the volume per se,” Hildebrandt explained.

Considerable research into the causes of cavity pinpoints the frequency of sugar consumption as the issue. If you have 24 toffee bars and you can eat them whenever you like during a day, people who eat all 24 during mealtimes get far fewer cavities than people who eat a candy bar every hour.

“The saliva re-mineralizes the teeth. Over time it gets repaired, but you have to allow time for that,” said Hildebrandt.

When you are constantly bathing your teeth in sugar, you don’t give time for the repair.

Cavities are formed when two ingredients come together: sugar and microorganisms called Mutans Streptococci.

“There are specific microorganisms that live on the teeth that utilize sugar available in the mouth to turn to acid that remove mineral from the teeth,” said Hildebrandt.

Some people don’t have those microorganisms and those are the people we think of as having “good teeth.”

“They seem to be able to eat anything and not get cavities,” Hildebrandt explained.

In general, research seems to indicate that mother’s pass down those microorganisms and that is the cause of people who think they have “soft enamel.”

According to Hildebrandt, the soft teeth thing is “an old wives’ tale.”

Candy isn’t the top enemy when it comes to the health of your teeth, according to Hildebrandt, even though a candy bar is 50 percent sugar.

“I don’t think candy is the big culprit in the decay problems we’re seeing,” he said, blaming instead, soda.

People sip soda all day, coating their teeth the same way eating a candy bar every hour does.

“If we got rid of soda pop, we’d have to downsize the clinics,” said Hildebrandt.

An example of the problem with frequency is one of Hildebrandt’s patients who was diabetic, and popped a couple of raisins whenever his blood sugar got low.

“He had decay all over the place,” said Hildebrandt.

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