oral history

Why Is Candy Passed Out During Halloween?

October 25th, 2018

Halloween is one of America’s favorite traditions, and gives us an incredible opportunity to get outside and celebrate our community with friends and neighbors alike. But, did you know that we haven’t always passed out candy during Halloween? In fact, Halloween isn’t even an American holiday.  

European Tradition

Halloween used to be known as The Festival of Samhain, which celebrated the harvest and the Celtic New Year. The Festival of Samhain originated in England and Scotland, and later grew more popular across Europe.  

Trick-or-treating evolved from an old tradition called “going a-souling,” which occurred when children celebrating the Festival of Samhain solicited food and treats from door to door. Kids would knock on a neighbor’s door and offer to pray for the souls of their relatives in exchange for gifts. The children would be handed food, coins, ale and other trinkets in exchange for their kind thoughts. This tradition eventually made its way to America in the early 1900s, when the United States welcomed a large influx of European immigrants.  

Parental Concern

Trick-or-treating gained popularity in the 1930s and 40s, but as Halloween became more popular, parents felt unsafe allowing their children to accept unwrapped food from strangers. At the time, some of the most popular treats were cookies, cakes, fruit, popcorn balls and muffins. Parents argued that the treats could be tampered with and potentially harm their children. Combine this risk with how expensive and time consuming it is to make treats from scratch, and Halloween had a real problem: a lot of people wanted to celebrate, but could not do so without steady, reliable supply that parents could trust.  

Sweet, Packaged Confection

During the 1950s, Halloween boomed in popularity across the USA. However, parents were still concerned about the treats their children were receiving. Candy producers saw this as a golden opportunity to alleviate parent’s concerns by providing reliable, enjoyable treats. Candy producers created large advertising campaigns promoting the safety of prepackaged candy. They argued that it was safer for children to eat packaged candy, because it couldn’t be altered without visible marks on the wrapper. Suddenly, it became much cheaper to buy candy and hand it out instead of spending hours creating your own treats. 

Sugar Harms Teeth 

Candy is packed with sugar, which fuels unhealthy bacteria that eats away tooth enamel and leads to cavities. Be sure that your child doesn’t eat too much candy, and that they brush and floss their teeth after eating candy. We hope that your family has a happy and safe Halloween this year! 

The Mystery of the Colorado Brown Stain and the History of Fluoride

March 2nd, 2017

The Center for Disease Control has called community water fluoridation one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. This is due to its effectiveness, and low cost. In fact, the American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, US Public Health Service, and World Health Organization all advocate for fluoridating community water supplies. But, we haven’t always reaped the oral-health benefits of fluoride. Actually, until recently, we haven’t even fully understood the full scope of fluoride. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that we began studying fluoride, and incorporating it into our health toolbox.

Colorado Brown Stain

In 1901, a young dental school graduate named Frederick McKay moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado to open a dental practice. Upon his arrival, he was astounded to observe that many of the locals suffered from brown stains on their teeth. Sometimes, these stains were so dark that it appeared as if their teeth were caked in dark chocolate. After observing this, McKay frantically searched for information about the disorder causing the stains.

Teeth mottling (dental fluorosis)

McKay invited a renowned dental researcher named Dr. G.V. Black to help him get to the root of the stain affecting those in Colorado Springs. In 1909, Black accepted the invitation and arrived in Colorado. For six years, the two worked together and found that nearly 90% of children native to Colorado Springs suffered from the stain. They gave the brown stain a more technical name (tooth mottling, which was later changed to fluorosis) and were surprised to discover that mottled teeth were highly resistant to tooth decay. While they couldn’t identify a cause for tooth mottling, they noted the anti-cavity effects of the stain and moved on.

A Trip across the Rockies

McKay was ever-vigilant in his quest to solve the brown stain issue. So much so, that in 1923 he went from Colorado Springs to Oakley, Idaho to investigate a recent uptick in tooth mottling in Oakley. The parents told McKay that the stains began appearing shortly after Oakley constructed a communal water pipeline to a warm spring five miles away. After examining and finding the water to be normal, McKay advised town leaders to abandon the pipeline and use a nearby spring as their water source. The town obliged, and within a few years the brown stains disappeared.

McKay still hadn’t found the exact cause, but he isolated the source of tooth mottling.

An Arkansas Aluminum Town

McKay then travelled to Bauxite, Arkansas, a town owned by an aluminum plant called the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA). The residents of Bauxite were afflicted with mottled teeth, but nearby towns were not. McKay asked the town to conduct a study on the water, and returned to Colorado.

ALCOA’s chief chemist, H.V. Churchill, analyzed the water with more powerful tools than available to McKay when he was in Oakley. Several days after the study was conducted, Churchill found high levels of fluoride in the water at Bauxite. At first, he couldn’t believe it, and order a new sample. The second test showed the same results and compelled Churchill to write a 5 page letter to McKay.

The letter informed McKay of the fluoride findings, and Churchill urged him to test samples from Colorado Spring and Oakley for increased levels of fluoride. McKay obliged, and within months, he found the answer to the brown stain problem: increased levels of fluoride were in fact staining teeth.

National Institute of Health

After learning of McKay and Churchill’s findings, the National Institute of Health (NIH) decided to investigate water-borne fluoride, and the effects on teeth. Drs Trendley Dean and Elias Elvove first came up with a method to measure fluoride levels in water. Together, they developed a state-of-the-art method to measure fluoride levels in water with an accuracy of 0.1 parts per million (ppm). By the late 1930’s the NIH concluded that fluoride levels up to 1.0 ppm could not cause enamel fluorosis.

What about Cavity Protection?

Upon finding that miniscule amounts of fluoride would not stain teeth, the NIH went back to McKay’s writings where he observed the cavity resistance of those with the brown stain. Dean wondered whether adding fluoride to drinking water at physically and cosmetically safe levels would help fight tooth decay. This hypothesis, Dean told his colleagues, would need to be tested. In 1945, Grand Rapids Michigan voted to add fluoride to its drinking water. The 15 year study would be the first of its kind. After just 11 years, Dean announced that the cavity rate among children in Grand Rapids had dropped more than 60%. This was a major scientific breakthrough and helped revolutionize dental care.

Fluoride Today and in the Future

Today, fluoride is widely acknowledged as a way to prevent cavities. In the United States, community water fluoridation costs just over 1 dollar per person every year, which is a low price to pay for better oral health. Check online to see if your town uses a fluoridated water source. If not, we suggest buying fluoridated toothpaste to get your daily dose of cavity-preventing fluoride.