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What It's Really Like When Dad's a Dentist

Photograph by Twenty20

I'm married to a second-generation dentist (as in my husband was raised by a dentist and is now a dentist). We take teeth seriously in this family. It goes beyond regular checkups and brushing to the types of foods we eat and those we avoid.

I’m not a dental expert, but somehow dental hygiene always becomes a topic of conversation with other parents. Most want to know how a dentist cares for teeth outside the office, so here goes:

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1. Brush Early, Brush Often

Our girls won’t be responsible for brushing solo until they’re old enough to operate a vehicle.

Before our girls even budded baby teeth, my husband began each bath by wiping down their gums with a wet washcloth. Once that first tooth broke through, we started brushing twice a day. My kids fight getting their teeth brushed just as much as most kids. The difference: Dad won’t back down.

All parents have THAT THING that is nonnegotiable. For some it’s having neat hair. For my mother it was manners. For my husband, it’s brushing your teeth. I’m sure everyone wants polite children with excellent dental hygiene and a tidy appearance, but most of us are lax on one thing or another sometimes. My kids may leave the house with wild hair on occasion, but we brush teeth every day, twice a day.

Sometimes, the kids cooperate. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I see my husband chasing them across the living room with a tooth brush shouting, “If you get a cavity, I’m filling it without Novocain.” They have no concept of cavities or Novocain, but it sounds menacing enough that they stop running. In time, they learn cooperation is not required, but it makes the process easier.

While we let our girls “brush” first, we always finish the job. My 6-year old makes a decent show of brushing on her own, but the hubby says our girls won’t be responsible for brushing solo until they’re old enough to operate a vehicle.

2. Floss Is Our Friend

The other day, my oldest had popcorn and announced, 'I NEED to floss.' Her father beamed with pride.

As soon as my daughter had two teeth, my husband started flossing between them. Now that the kids are older, we often use fun “flossers” in various colors and cartoon themes. The other day, my oldest had popcorn and announced, “I NEED to floss.” Her father beamed with pride.

3. Fruit Snacks Are the Forbidden 'Fruit'

Don’t let the cheerful cartoon fruit on the package fool you. Fruit snacks are the WORST for teeth. They’re filled with sugar, and the sticky consistency means they cling to your molars until you brush. Imagine slapping a sugar sticker on your teeth. That’s a fruit snack.

My husband visibly cringes whenever our daughters eat them. Yes, we let our kids eat fruit snacks. We never buy them. We never offer them. But, if they receive them in a birthday treat bag or trick-or-treating, we allow them to partake of the forbidden “fruit.” Then we brush with authority.

4. We Limit Liquid Sugars

We avoid more than soda and sports drinks in this house. While my girls munch fruit throughout the day, juice is limited. My children savor their occasional glass like a fine wine. And by juice, I mean orange juice. Lemonade, fruit punch or apple juice are only available on special occasions as a single serving.

My first-grader copped to drinking chocolate milk the first two days of school. (She’s a good kid with a terrible sweet tooth). We agreed she could enjoy flavored milk once a week, whichever day she chooses. The other four days are plain milk or water.

To add variety, my kids will sometimes drink flavored sparkling water. They call this “sparkle juice,” which sounds way cooler than it is. Just be sure to read the label. Some options are loaded with added sugar or artificial sweeteners and flavors. Our “sparkle juice” is just water, CO2 and natural flavors.

5. Tooth Fairy Is a BIG Deal

When I reminisce on my Kool-Aid and Pixie Sticks childhood, I sometimes think my kids are getting a raw deal. With all the fuss we make over teeth, I’ve decided the tooth fairy should be important.

When my daughter lost her first tooth, I sprinkled some glitter and left a copy of Dr. Seuss’ "The Tooth Book" with an inscription from the tooth fairy (aka a coworker whose handwriting my kid couldn’t recognize) and a dollar coin. I stocked glitter for all subsequent teeth and made a new fairy-flight pattern each time I leave a dollar coin. I’d like to take credit for these ideas, but I seem to have numerous teeth-minded friends who are full of tooth fairy advice. Some folks recommended dollar-store toys. No one recommended candy or fruit snacks.

6. We (OK I) Have Dental Emergencies Like Everyone Else

Earlier this year, I had to pull one of my daughter’s baby teeth. I thought my spousal selection would preclude me from this activity. I was mistaken.

My daughter bumped her loose tooth on a toy and came running into the kitchen while I was browning taco meat.

“Take it out, Mommy!” she sobbed.

I looked at the clock. Thirty minutes until daddy was home. “Can it wait?” I said. (This was not one of my better parenting moments).

“No!” she said, spitting blood into a Kleenex and crying in earnest.

Of course, I couldn’t get the damn thing out. All the blood was making me queasy, and my tacos were burning. So, I did what anyone would do. I called a dentist. This time, my phone-a-doc was my father-in-law because my husband was already wrist-deep in someone else’s mouth.

“I’m pulling on her tooth as hard as I can,” I said above my daughter’s increasing sobs. “Please talk me through this or come over.”

He very calmly suggested that I twist the tooth instead of pulling straight down. Out it popped.

My daughter flashed a gap-toothed smile and hurried back to play with her sister. I washed my hands and went back to the tacos, thankful I had not one, but two dentists on speed dial.

7. The Adults-Only Section: We Whiten

I wouldn’t go to a mechanic whose minivan broke down on the side of the road once a week. I doubt you’d go to a dentist whose family had dingy smiles.

Call me paranoid, but I have a feeling people look at my teeth. I wouldn’t go to a mechanic whose minivan broke down on the side of the road once a week. I doubt you’d go to a dentist whose family had dingy smiles.

Like most parents, my husband and I require coffee to function. Despite brushing daily with whitening toothpaste, our teeth still yellow. So, once every six months, after our in-office cleanings, we whiten with bleaching trays.

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8. We Eat Dessert (or at Least Some of Us Do)

My husband and youngest daughter turn their noses up at most sweet things (A sweet tooth—or lack thereof—is genetic rather than professional). My oldest daughter and I love dessert. The more chocolate the better, as far as we’re concerned. So, we dig in!

We’re just sure to brush and floss well afterwards.

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