In my opinion, peppermint is better than pumpkin spice, so when the holiday season rolls around, you can find it all over my house. Candy canes on the tree, peppermint creamer in my coffee, little minty pieces in cookies. So, it's no surprise that my 3-year-old and almost 2-year-old beg for sweet peppermint-flavoured candy canes every chance they get. Not to mention, point out every single candy cane they see when driving around or at the grocery store — which happens quite often.
To the delight of my toddlers, I recently caved and let them both eat candy canes. (It did not end well.) My oldest did OK, although sticky red syrup got everywhere; but my youngest practically gagged himself, then attempted to chomp down on the hard candy. That's probably not ideal, right? To find out for sure if it's safe to let my toddler eat a candy cane, POPSUGAR talked to a pediatrician and a dentist to get their insights.
Is it Safe for my Toddler to Eat a Candy Cane?
Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding no. Heather Baumann, MD, primary care pediatrician at Children's Health in Dallas, said, "While candy canes are fun holiday treats, I would not recommend candy canes or any type of hard or sticky candy for toddlers." Sneha Kannan, BDS, from virtual hospital iClinic, agreed. She said that candy canes are definitely not safe for toddlers.
"The sticky and greasy material of the candy cane will get stuck to the soft palate and cause gag reflux," Dr. Kannan said. "Hard candy canes lead to long-term exposure to sugary substances and paves the way for a tooth cavity. Also, the candy cane can hurt the gums while the toddler tries to eat the sweet in haste. The candy will tempt the toddler to take a bite, which may eventually end in fracturing or chipping of the tooth. The toddler may also accidentally swallow a big portion of candy, causing him or her to choke."
How Old do Kids Have to Be to Eat a Candy Cane?
Since toddlers shouldn't be eating candy canes, you may be wondering how long you have to wait to give this sweet candy to your kids. Dr. Baumann referenced the American Academy of Pediatrics, which does not recommend hard candy (which would include candy canes) for children under the age of four, as it could be a choking hazard.
With that being said, four still might be too young for some kids. "If a child of any age bites down on hard candy or tries to stick it down their throat, I would recommend avoiding giving them candy canes or any hard candy because it could be a choking hazard at any age," said Dr. Baumann. "In addition, biting on hard candy can be hard on their teeth, no matter their age."
What Is a Safer Alternative to Candy Canes?
Dr. Baumann recommends a soft candy or Christmas cookie, if you must give a treat. When your child is old enough for a candy cane, Dr. Kannan recommends sitting with them the first time to make sure there is no unexpected incident. She also recommends brushing their teeth immediately after consuming anything overly sugary to prevent the development of cavities. The best-case scenario is to make this a rare treat — and offer other types of sweets or fruits the rest of the time. Dr. Baumann said it's best to limit sugar intake in toddlers in general.
Parents don't have to act like the Grinch when it comes to holiday cheer, but while kids are little, it's definitely better to skip the candy canes. I learned that the hard way, but you don't have to!