My Preschooler Needed A Lot Of Dental Work, And I Felt Ashamed

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and Geber86/GGetty

Don’t be ashamed to take your kid to the dentist, even if you’re sure they’re going to need a lot of work. My four-year-old has already had so. Much. Dental. Work. He has four crowns and eight fillings in his tiny mouth, and another appointment on the books for next week. He has a filling in his front tooth that he has knocked out twice. We are on our way to a crown for that one, too.

I fully acknowledge how incredibly privileged we are that my husband’s work offers good dental insurance. It’s also lucky that our kid is cooperative so he doesn’t need sedation, which would increase the cost considerably. His mouth has cost a ton of money even with those small mercies, and I cannot imagine how much more immense this worry would be if I couldn’t afford to help him. There should be no such thing as financial barriers to any kind of healthcare, including dentistry, and we have a long way to go to make sure that everyone can afford to keep their teeth maintained.

I am grateful that we are able to afford the crowns and fillings that our son needs. But I hate even admitting how much work he’s had because I know some people think it all comes down to hygiene. I must not be brushing or flossing his teeth often enough. Well, people who think that are wrong. (And rude.) Ask any parent whose child, like mine, just can’t seem to turn around without getting another freaking cavity.

My oldest son has never had a single issue. Twice a year, he goes for his cleaning, has perfect x-rays, and skips out of the office with a new toothbrush, and instructions to keep doing what we were doing. He is eight now, and he loves the dentist. His teeth are shiny and healthy.

Because my oldest has never had a single problem, I didn’t rush to the dentist with the second one. He was between ages three and four at his first visit. To my surprise, he already had a visible cavity in his molar! He wouldn’t cooperate for X-rays, but the dentist took care of what he could see, and we set an appointment for six more months.

Due to the pandemic, we missed that appointment. My little guy didn’t get to go six months after his first visit. We were safer at home, and I figured his little teeth could handle a few more months without attention. It never seemed to be an issue for his older brother.

Michal Jarmoluk/StockSnap

One morning when I was flossing my little guy, I noticed a cavity forming between his front teeth. I was shocked. How was this possible? We are so careful about his dental hygiene! We never, ever skip a brushing or flossing session, we don’t give them sugary drinks, and they were never allowed to take a bottle or cup to bed, even as babies.

I called his dentist and set an appointment for the next day. For some reason, I was really nervous and embarrassed. I was afraid the dentist would lecture me, or wouldn’t believe me when I explained how well we take care of his teeth. I didn’t want him to think I was a negligent mother, or that my kids weren’t getting the care they deserve.

At the appointment, I was horrified to find out that my son not only had the cavity I could see forming in his front teeth, but most of his other teeth needed work, too! I almost cried. I felt like such a bad mother. How could my poor son have so many problems with his little teeth, and I had no idea?

I assured the dentist that I carefully and lovingly care for his teeth. It was so confusing and frustrating.

I should not have been so upset. Our dentist carefully explained that, unfortunately, some kids are just prone to cavities. He believed that I take good care of my son’s teeth. There are a lot of contributing factors, and dental hygiene is only a piece of the puzzle.

As embarrassing and upsetting as it might feel when you have a kid who needs crowns and fillings and root canals, dentists truly aren’t judging you for having kids who need work. Pediatric dentists exist because kids’ teeth give out sometimes—even kids who take very good care of their chompers.

You don’t need to be embarrassed or hesitant to take them to the dentist.

Dr. Denise DiBona, a family dentist from New Jersey, sat down with Scary Mommy to talk about best dental practices, and to help alleviate some of the anxiety and guilt that comes with having a kid who needs a lot of dental work.

This just happens.

“Sometimes, teeth can be more susceptible to decay, despite careful hygiene practices,” she explains. “This may simply be due to the calcium and mineral content of the enamel as a result of systemic conditions during tooth formation. For example, if an infant has a fever or becomes ill during tooth bud development (ie.: while still in the jaw bone), the teeth that are forming at that time can suffer from enamel defects. This can cause discoloration, enamel pitting, white spots, and possibly an increased susceptibility to decay on these particular teeth.”

In other words, your dentist is a tooth expert. They know that you can brush and floss all day long, but some teeth are just prone to problems. My little one had chronic ear infections and repeated high fevers all throughout his infancy. I wish I’d known that could affect his teeth! It might have eased some of my guilt and worry.

Of course, Dr. DiBona recommends developing a relationship with a dentist as soon as the first little tooth comes in.

“Every infant should see a dentist by the time the first teeth have erupted (usually about 6 mos. old),” she explains. “Aside from allowing the baby to become acclimated to the ‘dental experience,’ this early visit gives the parents the opportunity to seek helpful advice on proper oral hygiene for their baby.”

Scheduling visits every six months “gives the doctor a chance to assess the condition of the enamel, the eruption pattern and the growth and development of the jaws. Bi-annual visits will allow for proper monitoring of the child’s teeth and early detection of any suspicious areas, should they develop.”

More than anything, Dr. DiBona wants parents to know that no matter what a dentist finds in your child’s mouth, they are not judging your parenting, and they want to help!

“Sometimes, despite the best oral hygiene practices and the most tooth-healthy, low-sugar diets, some children’s teeth will still develop decay and will require fillings. As with most anything, prevention and early detection are always the best ways to allow for the simplest and least invasive procedures.”

Keep taking your kids to their appointments, brush, floss, and do your best- but know that sometimes, cavities happen.

Most importantly, make sure that you don’t pass your worries along to your kids.

Even if you suspect that your child is going to need a lot of work, don’t be tempted to skip a visit because you’re nervous—and don’t waste your energy dreading the idea of the dentist!

“Parents should always refer to the dental experience in a very positive, fun, no-fear way and refrain from passing along any of their own dentistry-related anxiety to their children,” Dr. DiBona encourages.

When you have a kid with a mouthful of cavities, going to the dentist can be a source of stress and even embarrassment. A good dentist will not only fix your kid’s teeth, but will also reassure and encourage you. Sometimes, you do the best you can do, and your children’s teeth just need a little work. There’s no need to be ashamed. It’s not a reflection of your parenting, and that’s what dentists are for.

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