In my house, brushing my kids’ teeth is a total nightmare. That’s because my 2-year-old seals his mouth shut and won’t budge, no matter how many creative ways I come up with to make it fun and game-like. Thankfully, my 6-year-year is old enough to understand the importance of oral hygiene, but the first four years of his life similarly involved me holding down his arms with one hand while prying his mouth open with the other. Good times! All this to say, it’s not all that surprising to hear that kids as young as 2 years old are having serious dental work, including multiple cavities and root canals.
In some cases, however, all that nasty dental work has nothing to do with stubborn kids or overly-lax parents and everything to do with toothpaste. Or, more specifically, crappy toothpaste that pretends to be superior. That’s precisely what happened to my friend Jennifer Massey, a mom of three whose 5-year-old daughter recently went under anestheshia to have a whopping five cavities filled at once. The culprit? Organic, fluoride-free toothpaste.
Jennifer is one of those moms who feeds her children (aged 5, 3 and 1) organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Like many parents out there, she prefers natural products (disinfectants, lotions, sunblock, etc.) and tries to avoid chemicals. Which is why she opted for fluoride-free toothpaste in the first place. Sure, it costs more, but she figured it was worth it for her children’s health. Little did she know that her daughter would require major dental work as a result.
It all started when her daughter we’ll call her Julia was 3 years old. Jennifer took Julia to the dentist, everything was cool, they were told to come back in six months. The usual first-visit stuff. When Julia turned 4, the dentist noticed a little shadow on one of her teeth that’s a sign of a cavity and told Jennifer he’d like to do an x-ray. “It’s something I want to get a better look at,” he said as if it were no big deal. Jennifer was concerned about exposing her daughter to radiation and so she called some dentist friends to get their advice. If it’s not absolutely necessary, don’t do it, she was told repeatedly.
When Jennifer told her dentist no thanks, he just rolled his eyes and left the room (dentist of the year, huh?). Had he told her he was worried she had cavities and that an x-ray would help, she would have done it. But as far as Jennifer could tell, he was merely suggesting it as an option, but it was no big deal either way. Fast forward a few months and, as Jennifer was flossing Julia’s teeth she has always brushed twice a day and flossed religiously (unlike most moms out there) she noticed dark shadows on two of them. Jennifer brought Julia to a different pediatric dentist, who took one look in her mouth and confirmed that indeed Julia had not one, not two but five cavities.
Jennifer was shocked. And devastated! Again, this is a woman who barely lets her kids drink juice because of the high sugar content. She’s been brushing their teeth twice a day since they were babies, and she herself has had maybe one or two cavities in her life (zero as a child). The new and improved pediatric dentist explained that Julia’s teeth in the back are very tight (i.e., close together), and so the cavities spread. He said her oral hygiene was excellent and that her teeth are very clean but that some kids are just unlucky. (He also told her that an x-ray would have circumvented the whole thing.)
“I use organic toothpaste,” Jennifer told him, and he looked at her like she was crazy. He explained how using fluoride-free toothpaste is “like using soap,” and that kids require a small amount of fluoride, especially when so many avoid tap water altogether in favor of fluoride-free bottled water. Jennifer had no idea, which is why she’s eager to share her story with other parents who think they’re doing their kids a favor by using fluoride-free toothpaste. Turns out they’re not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Jennifer was hysterical about putting her child under general anesthesia because of the risks involved (she’s a social worker at a pediatric hospital, so she’s seen some pretty bad stuff first-hand). But her daughter is resistant to freezing, so she had little choice. Thankfully, the procedure went well and Julia now has five fillings, two silver caps and sealed teeth all around. And they’ve since switched to regular ol’ toothpaste.
“We’re all trying to do the best for our kids with what we know,” Jennifer said. “We try to go natural. We wonder if we should be giving our children all their shots. And so natural toothpaste I thought, ‘That’s just what you do.'” Clearly that’s not the case. An now you know.