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Having a healthy holiday

LAWRENCEVILLE - While the prospect of dressing in costume and scouring the neighborhood to fill a large sack with candy seems ideal to a child, for parents it can be another story.

There are concerns regarding the child's well being as they flit over streets in search of copious amounts of treats and the expensive dental visits that may ensue.

To start Halloween off on the right foot, pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and author of "Baby 411," Dr. Ari Brown suggests feeding children dinner before they go trick-or-treating.

"If kids haven't had dinner they will be cranky, whiny and won't have the energy to continue trick-or-treating, and they may eat candy instead," Dr. Brown said.

Proper costume length is also something parents should consider since most children will be running from door to door and across streets. Applying reflective tape to costumes or supplying glow sticks and necklaces is another idea for making kids visible to drivers. Keeping kids out of a car's path is the main objective.

"Remind kids what the rules are," Dr. Brown said. "They're not supposed to run across the street. They'll probably forget because they're so excited, but make sure you lay out ground rules."

If you prefer to not trick or treat in a neighborhood, other options are available so children can be safe yet still enjoy Halloween delights.

"There are lots of places, such as at local churches and communities that have group celebrations," said Darren Moloney, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Police Department. The key, he said, is to stick with what you know.

After the children return home with their bag of goodies, parents are advised to examine the candy for anything opened, tampered with or that could potentially be a choking hazard.

"Younger kids should pass on anything smaller than a gum ball," Dr. Brown said. Be aware of items that your children would have an adverse reaction to. Children with diabetes and allergies are primarily at risk during Halloween.

"Be aware of candy alternatives you can offer your kids," Dr. Brown said. "My son has a nut allergy and even some nut-free candy is processed in a factory containing nuts so he can't have that. We stock pile 'safe' candy for him so he can still feel he's included. That's important."

Once costumes have been mended, the pre-trick-or-treating dinners have been eaten and the candy safely checked there is still one item of business to attend to - teeth. With Halloween comes the perfect opportunity for a variety of dental fiascos to occur, which is probably why October is National Dental Month and dentists across the nation strive to remind parents and children to care for their teeth during this candy-centered holiday.

"We do see a small rise in dental problems following Halloween," said Dr. Bruce Carter, of Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Lawrenceville. "We see more broken teeth, tooth aches and often have to pull off fillings."

Prevention is the key to maintaining healthy teeth, and it involves more than merely brushing and flossing. Many dental dilemmas result from bad candy choices. The best candies are sugar free, but if indulging in the traditional candy fare, Dr. Carter advises shying away from sticky types of candy like taffy and caramel since those tend to stay on the teeth and snowball into dental nightmares. To avoid pricey orthodontic repairs on braces, children are advised to avoid jaw breakers and crunchy candies.

"They should stay away from four things: hard, sticky, gooey or chewy," said Dr. Robert Pickron of Pickron Orthodontic Care, which was more than 10 locations within Gwinnett County. "As far as brace-safe treats we suggest parents have sliced fruit, a gelatin dessert or chocolate without nuts."

Halloween doesn't have to be a nightmare for children or parents if a few simple safety and health precautions are taken.