By Shira Boss
Zero Cost Kids
We’re all about frugal living, but there’s one area where we don’t economize.
It’s dental care.
We go out of network for the boys to see an excellent – and fun – pediatric dentist every six months, and it’s not cheap. It’s actually our largest expense after general savings for the future.
This is an investment in their general health now, as well as protecting both their health and their finances in the future.
But the biggest reason we splurge on the special, fun dentist is to establish with them that taking care of their teeth is enjoyable, not a chore or worse, scary. If they do need more than a routine cleaning in the future, we want them to trust the dentist and be comfortable.
A Tale of Two Parents
When I was growing up, my dad was fanatical about tooth brushing – we never missed a night, even being awoken after long car trips home. We went to the dentist every year (not every 6 months as recommended) – he was an old fashioned dentist who did all the work and the paperwork himself, with no assistant. He played classical music and chatted with us and we all enjoyed our annual trips to the dentist.
(As another topic, I never had dental x-rays growing up, and will continue that policy for the boys as long as is practical, hopefully until they are fully grown.)
I did get a cavity after age 35 but that’s the only work I’ve had done.
My husband, on the other hand, was fairly lax about dental care for a good number of years. And he is literally paying for it now, with painful problems and expensive (very expensive) repair work.
Toddlers vs. Tooth Care
When our older boy was 2, he was still fighting tooth brushing. He flailed and screamed and fought – you probably know the scene I’m talking about.
We tried a regular toothbrush, a vibrating toothbrush, an electric toothbrush, a cartoon toothbrush…flossing was not even attempted.
The advice of our pediatrician: “Just keep trying.”
After seeing some gruesome photos on the Internet of pediatric tooth decay, I started to panic.
Finding a Pediatric Dentist
On our local moms email list, I researched all the comments about local dentists, and decided on a practice of two young women who specialize in kids and get great reviews.
They don’t take our insurance. We save monthly into a special account.
They have a nice waiting room with books and toys, they stay on schedule (a huge bonus with toddlers), they demonstrate with a huge dinosaur puppet, they offer videos on the ceiling (we say no to that), and they have an old-fashioned treasure chest on the way out to pick out a little toy.
Again, I’m not normally for bells and whistles. But a friend of ours with the same insurance went to the dentist that is covered by our plan and was told to hold down her screaming daughter so they could work.
Now, I’m sure it’s not either-or. Surely many perfectly good and even entertaining dentists are covered by insurance. In our case, the options are very limited and we make the choice to make this our one splurge.
Biggest Benefit of the Pediatric Dentist
Going to the pediatric dentist was the best thing we’ve ever done for taking care of our son’s teeth. It didn’t seem like she really did much on the first visit, but our son loved the experience and Dr. Vanessa so much, he became way more agreeable to tooth brushing.
All I have to do now when he won’t cooperate is mention that we want Dr. Vanessa to find white teeth when we go next, not yellow teeth.
Dr. Vanessa is like a superhero, so I use her as both the good cop and the bad cop (“Ooh, look at these white teeth! Dr. Vanessa will be so proud of us!” or, “We don’t want Dr. Vanessa to tell us we haven’t been taking care of your teeth!”).
Importance of Diet for Teeth
While we were stressing out at our first visit to the pediatric dentist, she made the point that with young children not yet allowing us to brush and floss properly, diet is the other half of the game.
Our sons drink only plain milk and water. That got a big thumbs up from Dr. Vanessa, since juice and chocolate milk contribute to tooth decay. We allow the occasional homemade cookie or other treat, but not candy. The dentist warned specifically against gummy candies.
Unfortunately, the dried fruit we give our preschooler in abundance, although it is nutritious, is almost as bad as gummy candy for the teeth. Ideally, we would give a quick brushing, even without toothpaste, after serving raisins, prunes, dried apricots, etc. Do we? Please. No. I can barely get through the day as it is. But I aspire to.
Toddler Tooth Care: A Toolbox
In preparation for starting to see the pediatric dentist every 6 months, we got this book from the library:
Our older son loves it, asks for it 10 times in a row, never tires of it. It also happens to look exactly like the dentist’s office that we go to (except in the book the dentist is a man and the hygienist is a woman, whom our son points to and calls her “Dr. Vanessa” – of course I’m not going to correct him!).
Our favorite toothbrush is the RADIUS Totz extra soft. We buy them in bulk.
RADIUS also makes an even softer toothbrush for babies, which we use for our younger son.
Under 2 years old, we like this Australian toothpaste that has Xylitol (a natural antibacterial) and can be swallowed. It seems pricey but lasts forever.
Once they learn to spit and can rinse, we switch to Tom’s children’s toothpaste with fluoride.
As for flossing, it’s not a daily practice, but we do try. We have several kinds of floss, and cater to the 3-year-old’s whims: plain, mint, mommy’s floss, whatever he wants he gets. We’re not into spoiling, but we’d rather not make this practice a battle.
Tooth brushing Songs
In addition, we offer entertainment. We sing tooth brushing songs (you an adapt any children’s song, like “Row Row Row Your Boat” becomes “Brush, Brush, Brush Your Teeth, Make them Nice and White!”) and there have been phases when I’ve “brushed” 5 animals’ teeth before our son’s. (Tedious!)
Believe me, many nights I am dreading this theater and just want to get it done! But young children are like wild animals, aren’t they? They read you. When you’re not up for it is when they get extra cranky and make the biggest demands.
Tooth Brushing Success!
It might be because of the above, or it might just be our son is now over 3 and has matured just a bit, but we’re finally in a tooth brushing rhythm where it’s not a struggle. (But we still sing the songs!)
Of course, now the 1 year old is screaming and wrestling for the toothbrush when we try to brush his teeth.
We’re starting to read him the Going to the Dentist book in preparation for his first visit to the pediatric dentist. Hopefully it’ll work the same magic soon.
In the meantime, like our pediatrician said, we’ll keep trying! It’s worth it.
You can do this!