Family life

Why I feel guilty about my kids' bad teeth

Jennifer Pinarski feels awful that her kids have cavities—but she can't carry all the blame.

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Gillian at her last dental appointment. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children.

Last month, the public health unit sent a note home with my son to let me know a hygienist would be visiting the school to perform routine dental health screenings on the students. The letter said that parents could call the health unit if they had any concerns.

And, boy, did I ever have concerns.

You see, the screening was set to take place just days after our son accidentally knocked out several of his baby teeth in a dental emergency. One of the teeth he didn’t quite knock out (yet managed to loosen and kill anyway) had caused an abscess to form. This was in addition to a stubborn filling that refused to stay in his molar and was scheduled to have a crown put on it. Plus, I knew that there were other cavities that had developed between his dental checkups. I called the health unit (in tears) to pretty much tell them I knew that my son had horrible teeth.

Read more: How to prepare for your child’s first dental visit > 

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Genetics (both my husband and I were cavity-prone youngsters) and unflouridated well water has meant that, without fail, each time we visit the dentist they tell me that my kids have cavities—despite brushing and flossing their teeth twice a day. For example, after my daughter’s last dental treatment (which involved hospital sedation, a pulpectomy and crowns), the dentist reported that her teeth were spotless—no plaque or build up—but were also full of tiny cavities that would only appear on X-rays. Indeed, Gillian emerged from dental surgery with a beautiful and healthy smile—but I left feeling sick with guilt. Each night when I brush her teeth I can’t help but wonder if, despite my best efforts, the sugar bugs will always win.

Read more: What you need to know about kids and oral hygiene > 

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The day after my son’s dental screening at school, the public health unit’s hygienist called me to confirm that, yes, my son has a lot going on in his mouth. But instead of calling to scold me (which is what I expected) she talked me through all of the treatment options for my son and even helped fast-track a previously booked consultation with one of the region’s best children’s dentists. She patiently listened to my concerns and gave me helpful solutions to manage his dental issues while we await treatment. She even praised me for being proactive in calling ahead of time to inform them of the situation and for how well my son knew his own teeth—apparently he offered commentary during his screening. The result: appointments are set up over the next few months to take care of his cavities and abscess. He is happy and pain-free—even if I’m not totally guilt free.

Tell me I’m not alone in this! Tweet me your dental drama @jenpinarski,.