Sunday, February 27, 2011

Weekly Column: How to Surprise a Teeth-Conscious Mom

We take great pride in our clean teeth around here. 
Nightly, dutifully, our daughters let us brush their teeth before taking hold of the brushes themselves and scrubbing a few spots we ‘missed.’  They sit still while we floss, and then the job is done; we’re off to bed.  If we remember, we might even brush their teeth again before we head to preschool in the morning. 
Yes, they have clean little choppers.  Healthy smiles.  We’ve even been diligent about taking our oldest to the dentist. 
She had her first cleaning at age three.  The visits consist of a careful cleaning by a sweet dental hygienist, a quick chat with the dentist, and a congratulatory bag of new teeth-cleaning goodies.   Dentist visits are a fun photo-op – a simple memory.  Easy and worry-free.
Which is why I was completely stunned to hear, upon our last visit, that my daughter had a cavity.  Impossible, I thought.  But we’re so careful, I complained.  How did this happen, I cringed.
Thankfully, my hygienist has probably seen the likes of my thoughtfully blank stare before on the faces of other prideful parents.  She immediately began explaining helpful ways to avoid more cavities in the future, and we left, armed with new hope. 
She told us that while brushing and flossing IS vital to healthy teeth, there are other things to consider as well.
Passing a toothbrush quickly over the surface of each tooth isn’t enough – it has to be done carefully, and for much longer than we’d been doing.  A teeth-brushing session should last at least two minutes.  It doesn’t sound like a long time, but when put to the timer, two minutes takes some serious effort. 

The placement of the toothbrush is also important: it should be more directly aimed at the gum line rather than the broad tooth itself.  Much plaque can be found lingering where tooth meets gum; brushing just the tooth will lead to plaque being left behind for hours or days at a time.  And skipping the morning brushing out of forgetfulness or laziness is a no-no.  Brushing at least twice a day, every day, and flossing once, is mandatory for healthy teeth and gums.

What we eat has as much impact on the health of our teeth as our cleaning habits.  I’d always known that candy and soda weren’t healthy, but the reasons we tried to avoid them had nothing to do with dental health – we simply didn’t want our kids eating so much sugar.  When they did have candy, we never thought to clean their teeth afterward, preventing layers of sugar from lying dormant for hours. 

But more surprising was the reality that occasional candy probably wasn’t our worst offender.  That spot could very easily be blamed on crackers, granola bars, cereals, and other simple carbohydrates.  Quick snacks like these break down into lingering sugars in our mouths, even if they seem harmless.  Our hygienist suggested popcorn or fruit for healthier alternatives.  And if we do have crackers or candy, to brush soon after eating. 

Luckily, we haven’t gotten into the habit of nursing cups of juice throughout the day, but that was another common pitfall for kids, as well as acidic energy drinks and diet sodas. 

The best part was that my five-year-old took all of this information to heart because it was explained to her directly.  She heard all of the right advice, and not just from her parents; the nice lady with the colorful scrubs – she of infinite influence and importance – told her how to take care of her teeth. 

And she means to do just that.


  1. Ugh. We don't do the morning brush either. One more thing to add to the crazy morning rush! (But worth it, I know, I know.) =>

  2. Crackers? Really? Huh...and popcorn is BETTER for your teeth? That's surprising!

    ...if you gave her a glass of water after meals and snacks, do you think that would help? I mean, you know, just in case you don't happen to be near a toothbrush every single time... :)

  3. I was always taught not to brush teeth directly after eating as this could actually cause more damage than good.

    I never flossed when I was a child but we did brush our teeth twice a day and I remember going to the dentist (which was a treat as we were always given stickers at the end of the visit). I've never had any problems with my teeth other than needing non-permanant braces, though these didn't actually work to plan and I am now constantly regretting turning down 'proper braces' afterwards as I'm so aware of how wonky my teeth are now. There's nothing 'wrong' with them, they just annoy me!

  4. Emily - I know! I was completely surprised about the crackers: an american mothering staple! But it's true: they break down into simple sugars that cling to teeth and get stuck there. Popcorn, while bringing the possibility for those kernel-peels getting wedged between teeth, is much healthier, teeth-wise. As far as drinking water, we always drink water, and I think that's good, but the sugars stick there until they're brushed away. Water won't do it well enough.

    Bethany - I asked about this, too, because I'd heard the same thing: digestive acids softening tooth-enamel, which would then be harmed by brushing. She said that unless the snack was something terribly acidic, like an energy drink, it's still safer to brush soon after. Better to not let the sugars set up shop and get clingy :)


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?