Dental guilt

Raised by a dentist, I have always held dental hygiene higher in importance over most other personal hygiene. I’ll skip shampoo more often than advisable and I’ll forgo shaving. But I have to brush and floss twice daily. Because that’s what people in my family do.

And I’ve brushed my kids’ teeth since the very first one erupted July 9, 2006. I did not need to look that date up, because I know my children’s dental histories.

When Peanut was diagnosed with a cavity at age 7, I felt shock and sadness. We’d been slipping a bit on the brushing, and had remembered very few morning toothbrush communions that year. We had split parental duties a bit and I brushed the younger child while Spouse monitored and rebrushed for the eldest.

But Spouse is not as dentally retentive as I am. And he let two minutes become one. Or less.

So after the cavity was filled I resolved to do all the brushing myself.

At night.

In the morning, though, I reminded Peanut of his jobs and wrote (and drew) a morning chart as suggested in The Secrets of Happy Families. His jobs were to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, pack his backpack, and check the weather to decide on shoes and jacket. But he rarely brushed in the morning. And I started to rely on Spouse again during the interminable evening routine. Chaos. Screaming, wailing, running, tickling chaos. So once again I brushed the little guy while Peanut increasingly took on his own dental hygiene.

Second cavity at age 7.5.

Both have been in permanent teeth.

Both, I have to note, have been without dental insurance.

And both are my fault.

Yes, I should be able to give a seven-year-old child a task and expect him to do it passably well. But I suppose there’s no need to get petulant at having to ask repeatedly and remind and plead and cajole and glare and remind again. I suppose I was wrong and it’s every parent’s job to ask seven times every single day for a basic and important task to be done, right?

Yes, I should be able to trust his father to brush him well after the initial juvenile pass. But I guess there’s no need to rely on other parents in the family to do a good job with something as important as dental health. I guess I should have to brush three mouths three times a day if I want us all to be cavity-free.

I guess.

So for at least a night I laid awake, terrifically disappointed in myself that my small child, for whose health and safety I am wholly responsible, will for his entire life have two molars that have been drilled and filled with foreign substances. And that will probably, in decades, need to be further drilled and additionally filled. It’s my fault that he will probably also have potentially toxic (though BPA-free) sealants on his teeth.

That he is broken. Invaded by bacteria. Vulnerable. Weakened. Compromised.

All because of me.

And then I woke up and thought of all the things I try so hard to do right. Food and kindness and respect and exercise and reading and science and math and listening and vocabulary and five-point harnesses and non-toxic lunchboxes and lead-free backpacks and friendship and history and family and sunshine and sunscreen and connection and nature and…

I stopped.

And thanked goodness for dental science and dentists and glass ionomer and resin composites. For disclosing tablets and timers and hygienists who teach what a child will not believe from his parents.

For lessons learned from making mistakes.

And for peace following acceptance and a plan to move on.

Maybe I’ll sleep better tonight. Right after I brush my teeth.

11 thoughts on “Dental guilt

    • Because it is all actually our fault. I mean, really.

      Yes, some enamel is more susceptible. But more important, different mouths get colonized by different bacteria, and once your oral flora is established, that’s it. Doesn’t mean I can’t keep him from getting cavities, even if he is a caries magnet.

      See above note about everything being my fault.

  1. Um, my eldest has had seven cavities? All in baby teeth. We were less vigilant about brushing when she was younger, and got more so after the first trip for fillings, and, well, it still seems like we’re fighting a losing battle. I feel kind of panicky about it; however, I was an indifferent brusher–really indifferent–and rarely had a cavity growing up. I don’t remember my parents ever brushing my teeth for me. I expend so much effort and she still gets cavities.
    There has got to be a genetic component here–my husband gets cavities and he keeps his teeth immaculate.

    • Oh, Heather, let’s just blame it on our husbands and be done with the guilt, shall we?

      Seven? I would be sobbing. Not because mothers of children with many cavities should sob. It’s not their fault. But it would be mine. Because…see above.

  2. While you’re out there controlling everything, can do you do something about the wind down here? It’s really picked up, and I’d like it to settle back down to a breeze.

    • Actually laughed out loud.

      You’re my favorite voice of reason, you know that?

      Now howsabout gettin’ all up in my manic panics a little earlier in the process, mmmmmkay?

  3. Boy, I know what you mean, all the dental hygiene struggles. Every morning I ask my school-aged children, “You all brushed your teeth, right?” If I’m lucky one will answer yea. But I have always been terrible about the morning brushing of the kids’ teeth, though I never go anywhere myself without it. You do need the reminder of all you’re doing well to let go of the guilt. Tomorrow’s always a new day, and we’ll polish those teeth til they gleam (says the woman with 3 caps and multiple fillings)!

    • If I could have them brush their souls and hearts three times a day, I’d let go and let teeth be less important. But dental hygiene and results are measurable in ways nothing else in parenting is.

      And DANG, but that was a serious revelation. Thank you for that.

  4. i think you’re brushing TOO MUCH. just do it at night. then you only have to feel guilty once a day, rather than twice.

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