I was about 24 when I got my first cavities.
My son has his first four cavities 20 years younger, just shy of four years old.
Sitting there in a chair on wheels amid the jungle motif of the dentist’s office, I listened intently to the dentist’s words, a mixture of shock, guilt, and curiosity all blending together into a haze of mind that left me in a fog for hours to come.
This was his first visit to the dentist.
How could this happen, I thought. We’ve been brushing his teeth every morning and every night. We don’t drink soda. Candy is an incredible rarity. What happened?
According to the pediatric dentist, the (in my mind unassuming) culprits were milk and juice. Not in his having them, but in the way he drinks them – having a little, setting the cup down and going to play or do something else, then coming back to the drink some time later and drinking a bit more.
The dentist says that each time he begins drinking, be it milk or juice, the clock starts for roughly a half hour of erosion to the teeth. So, if he begins, sets it down and gets back to it later, the clock starts all over again, adding up to what could be hours of erosion.
And leaving us with four cavities that need to be dealt with very soon. Now, a common question I’ve gotten after the visit is well, it’s baby teeth, so do they really need to come out?
The dentist fielded this one in the office, explaining that he could have his baby teeth until he’s anywhere from 7-9 years old. Left untouched, these issues could only magnify and leave him with incredible pain and infection.
So, we do need to take action.
I can not express how guilty I felt sitting there, listening to how this happened. Something I let happen out of pure ignorance. How could I have ever guessed giving him milk or juice could have such effects? That brushing twice a day wasn’t enough?
I felt like the worst parent in the world.
When I filled my wife in, that became an instant feeling of shared-guilt.
I don’t even remember going to the dentist yet at his age, but from the more I read, including a May 2015 Washington Post article from parent Cara McDonough, it’s becoming increasingly common for the recommendation be a visit once children first get their teeth.
According to research McDonough conducted for her article:
“By age 5, about 60 percent of U.S. children will have experienced tooth decay, according to the “State of Little Teeth Report,” a 2014 American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry document based on a survey of 1,000 parents. The report found that the rate of cavities in children 2 to 5 years old increased almost 17 percent from 1988-1994 to 1999-2004.
The report goes on to explain that tooth decay, particularly if left untreated, can result in infection, chewing difficulty and even malnutrition. If the decay is bad enough, abscesses may develop, affecting the health of the child’s permanent teeth.”
It was also somewhat refreshing to find we weren’t the only one who felt like the worst parents ever, with McDonough expressing the same type of guilt upon getting similar news with her daughter, who, at age 6, did fine with the same treatment our guy will be having – in-office with nitrous oxide.
As for our son, well, he did great for his examination, which, going in, was my biggest concern. Never did the thought of cavities cross my mind. I was more worried he’d be bouncing off the walls. But no, there he was, sitting in the chair, listening to the dentist, and when the little camera they used to take pictures of his teeth had a malfunction and they needed to take pictures again, he happily sat and went through the whole process again. He admittedly got antsy after the exam, with nothing to do while the dentist talked to daddy, but it turned into a long discussion, so I can understand the difficulty for a 3 year old with nothing to do to sit still for that long.
So, with new time restrictions on drinks (and meals), as well as a push to switch over to fluoride toothpaste versus the non-fluoride, training toothpaste we had been using for so long, we made our appointment to have the cavities filled (one day before his fourth birthday, the poor kid).
From there, he and I went to Target where he picked out a new electric toothbrush (and with some extra heads we can all use it), and I let him pick out a toy from the toy department. His choice du jour was a two-pack of DC Super Friends figures – Plastic Man and Martian Manhunter, which he excitedly was making up stories and adventures for in the backseat the whole ride home.
So, we move forward, hopefully learning from this.
There’s a joke from our son’s Little Golden Book of Jokes and Riddles that he loves to tell relatives. It goes like this:
Q: What time is it when you have to go to the dentist?
Lets hope between the lessons learned, the procedure to come, and the steps we’re taking from here on in, that’s a time that will never come.