Oh lolli, lolli, lolli, lollipop!

I went to the dentist the other day for my bi-annual tooth scrubbing. As I was checking out, there sat a basket full of candy canes.

“A little self-serving, don’t you think?” I joked.

“We’re human too,” the receptionist said a bit defensively. “You’re not the only one who has called us out on this, though.”

I didn’t intend to be a killjoy. In fact, I am pretty flexible when it comes to food—sweets, junk food, fast food— I believe all foods can fit into a healthy diet. Lately, though, I am getting a little grouchy when it comes to healthcare professionals conveying an image or a message that may go against a healthy lifestyle, especially when kids are in the equation.

If a child can get a candy cane after a dental check-up, what is the message?

If a child gets a lollipop after a shot or a routine doctor’s check-up, what is the message?

I think the intended message is to allay fear, acknowledge bravery, and reward a child for getting through, perhaps, a difficult appointment.

But I think the actual message received is a little bit different. Research on food rewards (read: dessert, candy, cookies, etc) gives us some insight. Many studies have found that children experience a directional shift in their food preferences to reward foods when they are given reward foods. In other words, kids who are rewarded with sweets end up liking and preferring them.

Is that the message you want your child to get from the dentist, the doctor, or the optometrist? That’s a message many parents don’t want their kids to get, period. After all, it’s tough enough to navigate the sweets without getting them from trusted professionals.

Those little lollipops send a message that may have life-long implications—one that is heard loud and clear by most young children.

What message is your child hearing?


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About Jill Castle, Bundoo Pediatric Nutritionist

Jill Castle is the author of Fearless Feeding and a Bundoo Pediatric Nutritionist.


  1. I’ve never really thought much of it before either, but it does seem a little self-serving. Our pediatrician gives out stickers. My son hasn’t been to the dentist yet, but when I was a kid, our dentist had a treasure chest full of stickers and little trinkets.

  2. I find this so interesting. My daughter equates the doctor’s office with lollipops and stickers. I have never thought much about it, although I have thought a lot about dentists who give candy! I am often tempted to give sweets as rewards at home (I was raised that way), but after reading your tips, I have stopped and started treating sweets as what they are- an occasional treat as part of a well-rounded diet.

  3. I totally agree! When my husband took over his current pediatric practice, lollipops were one of his first victims 🙂 He replaced them with stickers and my understanding is the kids are all surviving…

    1. Ha! Go Dr. Lincoln. (The other Dr. Lincoln, that is…)


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