When my son was 10 years old, I took him to the dentist for his bi-annual check-up. To be honest, I think I actually waited nine months rather than the usual six months in between visits. Since his pediatric dentist has video games, yummy toothpaste and videos for the kids to watch, he went in to the examining room with the hygienist while I stayed in the waiting room.
After the cleaning and X-rays, the dentist asked to see me. I was worried. I had flashbacks to Halloween when he ate all those candy corns and I didn’t help him brush. I felt palpitations as I walked down the hall and realized I had not been on top of him about flossing. As I walked into the dentist’s office, I saw the X-rays up on the light box. Then, the dentist pointed out the cavities my son was developing. The mom guilt hit me like a ton of bricks. What kind of mother was I? My son had SIX cavities!
The dentist calmed me down and told me that some kids are more prone to cavities than others and that he probably needed to floss better. But at that moment, I felt horrible. So, I came up with some ways to help guide my son toward better dental habits, and deal with my own feelings as well. While we moms can’t control everything, there are things we can do to prevent cavities and combat some of that mom guilt.
1. Get the timing right
While tooth decay can be prevented by proper brushing and flossing, often kids miss those hard to reach areas. Bedtime can be challenging with multiple kids, and getting each child to brush perfectly is a lot easier said than done. My dentist gave me a two-minute sand timer for my son to use while brushing his teeth. It really helps him to brush longer and more thoroughly.
2. Try flossers
Getting kids to floss is a huge challenge, and when the dentist tells you they have a cavity, you feel caught red-handed. You know you just did not have it in you to really make sure they were breaking off a piece of floss and thoroughly go through each tooth. But then, I found flossers. These small pieces of floss-wedged-between-plastic look a little like a slingshot. They make flossing so much easier for kids -- they actually like it. You can even find flossers in animal shapes and sea creatures. If you can get your kids to floss, this is a huge step toward fighting tooth decay.
3. Schedule dental visit in advance
I realized that if I wait until the dentist office calls me to schedule my next visit, invariably I put it off because it is always during a busy week. Now, I schedule the visits way in advance to avoid packing everyone’s schedule. For example, I do not schedule visits the week after Labor Day because I know I will be crazy with back to school shopping, PTA meetings and getting the kids’ schedule sorted out. I opt for slower weeks when I know the kids will not have conflicts.
4. Recognize that all kids’ teeth are not the same
I have two children with very different teeth. My daughter has never had a cavity and my son has had several. While my daughter probably does a better job brushing, I think her teeth are not as susceptible to tooth decay as my son’s teeth (and a dentist even validated that this is likely the case). So, while I am feeling guilty about his cavities, part of the issue could be genetics. The most important thing I learned from this experience is that my son’s teeth were more vulnerable than my daughter’s, and moving forward I had to be extra diligent with both his oral care and regular dental visits.
5. Buy an electric toothbrush
Once I realized my son was not brushing as well as he should, I bought him an electric toothbrush to see if that could help. He loved it and he felt it was easier to get his teeth cleaner. Plus, it’s less work for him because the toothbrush does a lot of the heavy lifting.
While I still feel a bit of mom guilt for my son’s cavities, I learned from the experience and made his oral hygiene a priority for him and for me. His last checkup was a week ago and he did not have a single cavity!
Medically reviewed by Dr. Natalie Pennington, DDS, April 2019