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Stop What You're Doing and Take Your Kid to the Dentist

Photograph by Twenty20

Part of my strategy to control my kids' candy consumption after Halloween was to schedule their dental appointments the first week in November. I hoped the dentist would hover over their faces as they laid back in those chairs and remind them the importance of good dental hygiene. A minor lecture on the corrosive effects of sugar was fine with me.

My 4-year-old son was in the chair playing with the instruments as the hygienist and dentist huddled over his x-rays. In a million years, I would not have suspected they were counting the number of cavities he had. When the hygienist swirled around in her chair, I could tell it was bad news.

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"We see a cavity."

My little guy has a sweet tooth, but we keep it in check. We brush twice a day, don't drink juice and regularly see the dentist. Those are non-negotiable at our house. I'd barely processed the information about this alleged cavity when the dentist lowered the boom.

"Actually, there are seven."

My first reaction was flat-out denial. He's only got 20 teeth. Is she seriously telling me that almost half of them are rotting? No. Way. The dentist must have known I'd left the plane of reality because she guided me over to the x-rays to show me the shadowy smudges on my son's teeth.

I can't remember who started crying first: me or my son.

We're reaching epidemic proportions of a rapid form of tooth decay especially in younger children.

Later that night, I put out a plaintive call on Facebook for other mothers to tell me their "small kids with cavities" stories. In one hour, I had 31 comments. That's more than I got on my last birthday.

"My daughter had five cavities at 4 and a root canal at age 5."

"Both of my kids had three cavities before kindergarten."

"My daughter had eight at age 6."

Once dozens of mothers assured me that there is a genetic component to tooth decay, I came off the "I'm a terrible mother" ledge and did a little research. (If you want to give yourself some lurid nightmares, read up on little kids having complicated dental procedures that require anesthesia.)

My research revealed that lots of preschoolers are requiring extensive dental work. Many of the dentists quoted in articles accused parents of coddling their children who may not like brushing by letting them off the hook.

But that's not the case in our house or for most of my compatriots on Facebook.

It turns out brushing twice a day isn't enough. Flossing is just as important as brushing for little kids. I confess: We've never once used floss with our kids. Our dentist never told us we should. But flossing behind those back molars will prevent the cavities (seven of which are festering in those hidden corners of my son's mouth).

Other causes for an increase in kiddie cavities include drinking bottled water without fluoride, too much snacking and sharing utensils, because tooth decay is contagious. As for the snacking, Dr. Man Wai Ng in Boston said that allowing kids to snack all day contributes to tooth decay. She advises parents to cut down on the number of snacks and reduce juice consumption to four ounces a day.

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In 2014, a dentist from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry said "[w]e're reaching epidemic proportions of a rapid form of tooth decay especially in younger children."

I guess it's good not to feel so alone. But I'm dreading the road ahead, when my son will have to submit to hours in the dentist's chair to fix a problem I really should have been more on top of in the first place.

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