Tonight is the night for kids to trick or treat. The bounty of candy collected in plastic pumpkins and pillow cases will be thoroughly enjoyed by children and their parents. Smiles will be shared and fun will be had. As we come down from the sugar rush after all of those Halloween treats, we must consider the sobering thought about the impact of this spooky tradition. Particularly, how are our children’s rates of dental decay? According to the California Dental Association (CDA), tooth decay is the No. 1 chronic health problem of children. Children need healthy teeth to eat properly, speak and smile. When children have cavities, they may have difficulty eating, speaking correctly and smiling. Children with dental disease also have problems paying attention and learning in school. The CDA reports that by kindergarten more than 50 percent of children in California have already experienced dental decay. Statewide, 28 percent of children have untreated decay, but data from the Santa Barbara County Health Linkages Program shows that 46 percent of Lompoc children had untreated dental decay in 2011. This level of dental disease has a serious impact on local families and community health. Dental disease can be extremely painful for children. Left untreated, dental decay can become severe enough to require treatment in the emergency department. When dental disease reaches this level of severity in children, the treatment often requires the use of general anesthesia and hospitalization. Hospital stays for severe dental disease can run several days and cost more than $20,000. The easiest way to avoid the pain, suffering and expense of dental disease is through prevention. Practice good dental hygiene as soon as the first tooth appears. Begin cleaning baby’s tooth by wiping the tooth with a clean, damp cloth every day. As more teeth come in, begin using a small, soft toothbrush. Fluoride is important for fighting cavities, but young children should be supervised when using fluoride toothpaste. Kids only need a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. It is important for parents to help young children brush well twice a day until they learn to brush effectively themselves. Another tool to help prevent tooth decay is fluoride varnish. Ask your dentist or doctor about having your child’s teeth treated with fluoride varnish. This is a painless process that involves a practitioner painting a high-concentration fluoride varnish directly onto the teeth. According to data from CenCal Health, the Santa Barbara County Children’s Oral Health Collaborative has been successful at implementing fluoride varnish applications in North County since 2008. The result of this program has been fewer cases of untreated decay in the children treated. Halloween festivities are fun and should be enjoyed by children and families. However, it is important for parents to remember these preventive measures and the long-term effects of this holiday candy binge. A limited serving size of sugar and good oral hygiene doesn’t mean limited fun.