Fun + Inspiration

History of oral health: the source of our sweet and spooky traditions

Today’s family-friendly Halloween traditions of candy, jack-o’-lanterns and kids dressed as their favorite animals and superheroes are lighthearted versions of rituals that started in Europe many years ago.

50 B.C.

The ancient Celtic festival called Samhain marked harvest’s end and winter’s beginning in Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France. It was also a time when they believed the dead came back to earth. People built huge bonfires and wore costumes to chase away ghosts.

43 A.D.

The Samhain festival evolved to include a Roman tradition honoring Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. She was represented by an apple, a fruit that still plays a role in modern-day fall and Halloween traditions.

609 A.D.

Samhain traditions became part of a three-day festival from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 that included All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. The celebration honored saints, martyrs and the dead. During the festival, turnips were carved into jack-o’-lanterns.


European immigrants brought Halloween traditions to America. Irish “mumming” and German “belsnickling” involved dressing in costume and going house-to-house for cakes. Americans began using pumpkins instead of turnips for jack-o’-lanterns. The holiday started becoming more about community and kids, and less about death and ghosts.


Trick-or-treating as we know it, when kids go door-to-door collecting candy, was established in American culture. Historians point to a “Peanuts” comic strip and a Disney cartoon featuring trick-or-treating in the 1950s to help pinpoint when the tradition started.

Halloween can be scary for your oral health. Keep your celebration healthy and reduce your chances of tooth decay by:

• Filling up on a healthy meal before indulging in sweets.

• Choosing plain chocolate, which melts faster than other candies.

• Avoiding hard and sticky candies such as lollipops, gummy bears and taffy.

• Drinking water to wash away sugar left behind by treats.

• Brushing and flossing regularly, but especially after eating Halloween goodies.