Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cavities are Contagious

Time for a random PSA on cavities. Not sure why this is on my mind today, but it is, so here we go.

Sierra has had 14 fillings. Yes, FOURTEEN. Including a few "baby root canals" (which aren't really full blown root canals) and several caps. Even worse, all of these fillings were done before her 5th birthday. I had a four year old with 14 fillings. I felt horrible. Where had we gone wrong?!?

Well, the answer is two-fold. First of all, the dentist we were originally taking her too just agreed not to do x-rays when I said we didn't have dental insurance and didn't want them. So we filled three visible cavities and went on our merry way. Then we came for a check-up and had 2 more cavities to fill. I began thinking there was more going on that needed to be addressed, so I switched her over to a fabulous pediatric dentist and when I tried to refuse x-rays there, he took the time to explain to me that we really needed them because if there were cavities between the teeth that he couldn't see and we didn't fill those, they would just get bigger. Plus, the cavities would "spread" to other teeth. Boy was he right. We did the x-rays and he sat down with me and pointed out every single cavity....nine of them. He took the time to answer my questions and I won't lie, one of my big ones was "these teeth are just going to fall out anyway, do I really have to pay to fix them?" He explained to me that if we got all of this decay out of her mouth at once, and especially before her adult teeth started coming in, she could very well stay cavity free. If we left decaying teeth untreated and she started getting adult teeth, they would likely have cavities too. So we came up with a plan to get all the cavities taken care of in a very short period of time. (A slightly sad side note, Sierra is a rock star dental patient and this dentist is great with kids...she sat in the chair with laughing gas, novocaine and some cartoons and got all of these taken care of over 4 visits. Some kids that need such extensive work have it done under general anesthesia so everything can be done at once).

Back before I ever knew anything was wrong is probably where this all started though. Cavities are contagious. When I was 23 years old and sitting there with my first baby, I frequently popped her pacifier in my mouth to "clean" it after it dropped on the floor. I also tasted her food to be sure it wasn't hot. Joshua saw me do it and followed suit. I didn't have cavities at the time, but we found out later that he did. These types of things trade the bacteria that causes cavities from adult to baby/child and set the stage for cavities.

So don't swap spit with your baby (I know, it sounds gross, but I bet you do it more than you think if you aren't aware of this). And if your child has cavities, do what you need to do to get them ALL filled in a short span of time. I always thought I just had bad teeth (I have a filling in every single tooth and several of my baby teeth broke apart instead of just falling out), but I now suspect I just had a mouthful of cavities when my adult teeth started coming in, so they spread. My parents did the best they knew with the information they had at the time. I know from our own experience that a family with a limited income isn't going to drop $2,000 on baby teeth without a compelling reason. I also did the best with the information I had at the time...if I had understood Sierra would likely need many more fillings down the line, I wouldn't have turned down $50 worth of x-rays at those first 2 check ups. Once I learned better, I did better. I didn't "clean" a pacifier with my own mouth anymore, I got all the cavities for everyone in the family taken care of, I don't turn down the x-rays or skip check-ups for the kids. Sierra has been cavity free for over a year now and Sedona hasn't had any. Hoping we can keep up that track record and they'll have healthy adult teeth when they come in.

And that's my random dental tidbit of the day! The only other thing I'll add is that there is another pediatric dentist I know of that has repeatedly been caught "diagnosing" cavities that don't exist. A good dentist may give you the option of sending your child back alone, but won't insist on it for every patient. Not allowing the parent to see everything that's going on should be a red flag. With younger children that are on their first or second visit, our dentist even has the child lay down on the parent's lap (with their head on your knees) while he checks their teeth so it's not as scary as being alone in the chair. A good dentist also won't just give you a list of work to be done. You should be able to look at the x-rays and have each area of concern pointed out to you. Follow-up is good too. When we thought one of Sierra's fillings wasn't shaped quite right, the dentist not only answered after hours calls himself, he also met us at the office on a Sunday to double check his work, free of charge.


Big Fat Gini said...

No kidding?! I had NO idea. We're all due for a trip to the dentist, especially now that Riley is getting horrible canker sores, so I guess we'll get checked and have it taken care of!

Definitely good information to pass along.

Renee said...

OMG - we just took SM in and she has 8 CAVITIES!! 6 fillings, 2 crowns! I nearly fell over and yes, like you, felt like a horrible parent!! They are going to have to put her under to get them all done at once - it totally freaks me out but I get the whole "cavities are contagious" thing now...Jack will be getting into the dentist shortly! Who knew?!

The Hills said...

I feel your pain Renee. Thankfully Sierra's crowns are all in the back, so we could do the pre-fabricated ones (much cheaper). Our dentist wanted to put Sierra under b/c they didn't think a child that young would possibly sit through the work, but she was already a pro at that point and it was no problem at all. We even shortened the schedule from 5 visits to 4 b/c she did so much better than they expected. Part of that was the dentist and his staff though, they were great at talking to her and explaining everything they were doing while hiding the scary parts. She didn't even know she was getting shots for the novocaine until someone else told her. She still doesn't know a drill's involved. In her case, we also have a prescribed flouride to brush onto her teeth once a day that I think has helped some (hasn't hurt)...that would depend on how much flouride they're already getting from other sources though.

The Hills said...

Oh and Gini....I think I've told you Sedona gets canker sores too now. She's had 2 so far (they just started recently). That was another thing I never knew, that canker sores and cold sores are different. Canker sores are genetic and there's not much to do about them, though they can be brought on by stress, low iron or B12, and some other things. I read some thing that said some research suggests SLS (which is the foaming agent in a lot of toothpaste) may bring them on too.


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