• When my five year-old son came home complaining of tooth pain I thought that he might have a loose baby tooth.  But when I took a closer look I could see a black spot, which would not come off with brushing. So, off to the dentist we went. I figured it was probably a small cavity.  So you can imagine my surprise when the dentist informed me that my son needed two root canals. It just hit me in the gut and I felt like such a failure at parenting. “Are you sure?” I asked in disbelief. “Oh yeah,” he responded and followed up with “Does your son brush his teeth regularly?” Just the question made me feel like the cavities were my fault, like I’d really messed up this whole parenting thing. “Yes, of course! At least twice a day,” I responded in a defensive tone. “Okay,” he said, “Let’s just go over some things to make sure you’re doing it correctly.” Yes, I was offended, but most of all I felt guilty that I’d let my son down. And there’s nothing more I hate than to see my children suffer.

    I thought that I was doing everything right. My son would brush his teeth at least twice a day, in the morning, when he woke up, and then at night, before going to bed. So, what went wrong? After speaking with the dentist, I realized that I was starting and ending the day right hygienically but then neglected everything in between. My children would wake up and brush their teeth immediately and then go to school after eating breakfast. This left whatever they had for breakfast sitting between (and potentially rotting) their teeth throughout the day. Also, I didn’t really think about their dental hygiene throughout the day since they were in school. I figured that they would be okay until they brushed their teeth before going to bed. Obviously I was wrong!

    So, here’s what I learned to help prevent tooth decay. All foods, especially sugars (even from natural foods) that sit between your teeth will cause them to begin to rot generally within twenty minutes. Something I already knew but for some reason didn’t think about on a daily basis. So make sure you and your children floss and brush your teeth after every meal, as soon as possible. Lunch can be tricky with the children so have them at least rinse their mouth out with water or bite into a carrot or apple to help remove some of the sugars. Ideally you’d sneak a toothbrush into their backpacks, but probably not very likely. Talk to your children so they understand the importance of dental hygiene or else they’ll learn the hard way- with the pain of a cavity. Hopefully, if it is a‘cavity teaching lesson,’ it’s just a baby tooth so they get it together for their permanent teeth. Also, be wary of giving your children bottled or filtered water, especially when they’re young, as most have removed the fluoride, which helps protect and strengthen teeth. Instead, give them tap water, which in most places is treated with fluoride.  If it’s important to you, you can distill the water by allowing it to sit overnight, using a Brita filter, or you can boil it to kill any possible bacteria. If you’re concerned about whether or not they’re getting enough fluoride, talk to your dentist about possible fluoride treatment.

    Oh, and make sure your kids are brushing their teeth — don’t just take their word for it. My son was sneaky enough to just wet his toothbrush without ever brushing his teeth. I caught him and made him brush his teeth in front of me. Of course, now that he’s had one of his two root canals completed, he’s brushing a lot more consistently. Go figure.  Check your children’s teeth for cavities at least once a week so that you can catch cavities early. Some foods like licorice-root or a Miswak chewing stick (a chewing twig from the Arak tree) can actually help kill bacteria socavities can start to heal on their own. Of course, genetics do play a role in your child’s predisposition to developing cavities, but at least do what you can to help prevent them (see our Playdate article Pediatric Dentistry Q&A)!