Why I Hate the Cavity-Free Club

By Jac

My oldest daughter was four years old the first time I took her to the dentist. We’d been pretty diligent about brushing her teeth, even flossing occasionally, and neither my husband nor I had had cavities as kids, so I was not expecting to have any problems. I was surprised to be told that she had several cavities in her molars that would have to be filled. We made her a follow-up appointment and she had the fillings put in — six fillings, I think it was. Afterward, she really loved her “silver teeth” and kept showing them off to her friends. It was hilarious to watch her as she tried to look at them in the mirror.

Then one day a few months later, she was watching a popular kids’ show, and it was an episode about taking care of your teeth. Then she heard it, the go-to line for dental health education: “You need to always brush and floss your teeth — if you don’t, you’ll get cavities!” G turned to me, wide-eyed, and said, “But Mommy, don’t I have cavities?” The look on her face was heartbreaking. She felt confused and guilty, and the pride she had shown in her beautiful silver teeth never returned.

I’m obviously not arguing with the facts of what’s being said here. I’m sure that regular brushing and flossing does go a long way toward preventing cavities, and it’s great for my kids to hear about the importance of taking care of their teeth from more people than their parents. But when you say, “Take care of your teeth or you’ll get cavities,” she hears, “If you have cavities, you must not take care of your teeth.” Well, I know her teeth are more complicated than that and Dental health professionals know it too. But you know who doesn’t know? My daughter. And a complicated explanation about her cavities from me is harder for her to believe than a simple explanation from a kids TV show or picture book, partly because I’m not usually singing and dancing about it.

We talk a lot about Mommy guilt these days, and a trip to the dentist with my kids is always the worst for me: something medically wrong with my child — six things, in this case — that I could have prevented if I had been more diligent? Yikes. Mommy guilt galore. But we are not talking about Mommy guilt here; we are talking about kid guilt, and that is very different.

We were back at the dentist today, and now G is six. Two of her new grown-up molars are only halfway in, and already one of them has a big hole in it and the other has a sticky pre-cavity. Nobody actually believes that this is because she didn’t brush well enough — it’s more likely to be weak enamel, something about a particular food we eat, a developmental problem that occurred before she was born, or something else entirely.

But the thing is that even if it is because of inadequate dental care at home, that’s a parent problem, not a kid one. So why G have to sit there and watch her two-year-old sister get her picture taken for the “No Cavity Club”? It’s not enough for a kindergartener to have to come back for fillings; now she’s missing out on being in a club too? It’s not her fault! Isn’t needing to get a filling its own disincentive? Missing out on being in the cavity-free club is kind of like adding insult to … fillings. Ouch.

So here’s what I’m asking of the dental health educators out there: please, please, continue to come alongside parents as we educate our children about the importance of taking care of our teeth. My kids are more likely to give in and say “Aaaah” for the twice-a-day brushing battle if Sid the Science Kid is also telling them to do it. So, thank you for your help; we are on the same team.

All I want is for you to change the language you use. Instead of “brush and floss your teeth or you’ll get cavities,” how about, “brush and floss so your teeth stay strong and clean and healthy!” I just think that with your current rhetoric, you’re forgetting about the many, many kids who already have cavities. I’ve been telling my kids that everyone’s teeth are different; that some people have problems even when they brush and floss — can everyone else please back me up on this? Because my six-year-old and, as of today’s dentist appointment, my four-year-old too, shouldn’t feel ashamed of their beautiful, cavity-filled smiles.

A version of this post was first published on BluntMoms.com, which explains why my kids are much older now.

photo credit: Back in Vietnam 02-15 via photopin (license) 

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4 thoughts on “Why I Hate the Cavity-Free Club

  1. Tracy

    Thank you for sharing this. It helps to know I’m not alone. My four year old has 8 cavities and my 3 year old has none. Both have the same oral hygiene & eat the same foods but I always feels so badly for the older one- & guilty myself even though there isn’t anything I can do or she can do.

    Reply
  2. Cheryl

    She should have gone to a different dentist. They preventatively seal kids’ teeth to prevent cavities on precisely that, weak enamel.

    My pediatric dentist costs more than what our benefits cover but it’s been worthwhile, as my three kids are in this cavity-free club, oldest one being 10. Yes, they eat candy and chocolate, and the oldest even has braces, but I’m proud of their amalgam-free teeth. And I do use the adage “brush your teeth or you’ll get cavities” and even go so far as say “if you don’t floss, you’ll teeth will fall out”. It’s worked well for us.

    Bottom line: I didn’t want to spend my hard earned money on fillings. So I do all I can to prevent them.

    Reply
  3. Rebecca

    When I was told my four-year old had 4 cavities, I actually cried! I felt so guilty. But we brush, we floss, she doesn’t drink juice! I thought we had done everything right. Turns out that she has very shapely teeth with lots of nooks and crannies and because of this, there was not much more we could have done. She has since had her teeth sealed and so far so good with more cavities but she is now eight and I still brush and floss her teeth for her because I’m so worried about the cavities. One day I will have to let go and not worry about that cavity free club!

    Reply
  4. Nathalie

    Well this may sound a bit harsh but that’s life! No different than my son who has a learning disability never making honour roll or winning academic awards at school. It’s not his fault that he can’t achieve like the others but unfortunately its a reality.

    Reply

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