Flossing a four-year-old’s teeth

Elizabeth went to see the dental nurse recently who told us she needed a filling. I decided to take her to the dentist to have the work done because of a bad experience with my own teeth and the dental nurse when I was a child. We went today and the dentist says she needs a general anaesthetic and three stainless steel crowns and a filling. This will cost about $3000. I am told that this is a preventable problem so naturally I feel just awful about it because it’s obviously completely my fault.

Yes, I let my kids have lollies every now and again. They also get chocolate here and there. I’ve always brushed their teeth twice a day with an adult-strength toothpaste that contains fluoride. I know not to buy the gimmicky children’s versions of toothpaste or the herbal brands. I have never, ever bought them soft drinks. They don’t even get it on special occasions like birthdays and Christmas. I do not buy soft-drinks. Ever. I despise the stuff and never touch it myself. I never buy cordial. They get milk, water, and orange juice. The orange juice is fairly recent too. I’ve never liked orange juice much because I know it’s full of sugar but I started buying it about a year ago. They get one glass a day at breakfast. However, this stops today. Orange juice is banned. Chocolate and lollies banned too. What about biscuits? Dessert? It seems mean to remove all the yummy things.

Elizabeth asked me today, “Will I ever be allowed to have lollies?”. I told her she could have them at birthday parties only. We’re also supposed to be flossing her teeth too. How many of my readers floss their four-year-old’s teeth? Daniel – who is seven – has had exactly the same exposure to juice and treats as Elizabeth and his teeth are fine. But we don’t floss his teeth either. I guess we should start now.

I really don’t want her to have a general anaesthetic but she wouldn’t even let the dentist clean her teeth or use the sucker. She’s not a cooperative patient at all.

41 responses to “Flossing a four-year-old’s teeth”

  1. Sorry to hear about that. I used to be terrified of going to dentist checkups with my school – not because I thought it would hurt or because I didn’t want anesthetic, but because I was scared of needing fillings.
    If it helps you feel a bit better, it’s not entirely your fault. Some people are just more prone to cavities than others. I’m one of those annoying people who has a very sweet tooth but no cavities. I know people who never eat sugar but who have a mouth full of fillings. I think it’s got to do with the fluoride you’re exposed to as a baby or something like that, I’m not really sure.
    In any case, reducing the amount of sugar you eat is always good, so good on ya for that 🙂

    • Thanks, Frances. I’m fairly strict with sugar intake in my own diet but was more relaxed with the kids. It won’t hurt to reduce their sugar intake as you say.

  2. This brought back such awful memories for me.  My kids needed quite a few fillings at around age 7 and 5… it was an accumulation of chaotic house when living with my husband (bathroom falling apart) and general inability to cope on my behalf in those years that meant I did not supervise teeth brushing properly.  I admit I did go through a herbal toothpaste phase and I feel very bad about that.

    We hardly ever eat dessert in our house.  No fizzy drinks for us either.  BUT yes, a lot of real fruit juice, which I thought would be healthier than squashes.  I am sure they had an effect.

    I have been told that some children have thinner enamel and are therefore more vulnerable to tooth decay?  I don’t know if that was just a palliative thought though.

    Thankfully after that one spate of tooth decay, their adult teeth seemed to grow in much stronger.  I think it may have helped them to make sure they brushed their teeth to, to prevent more fillings.

    I really feel for you.  It sounds like you are doing everything right and are just unlucky 😦


    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Denise. I breast-fed Elizabeth up until she turned three. Towards the end it was just once a day at bedtime and we didn’t brush her teeth afterwards because she fell asleep this way. Perhaps this also contributed. I stopped feeding Daniel when he was about 2 1/4.

      • That’s a good point – it could be that the sugars just eroded away the enamel to weaken it more than other children. I also breastfed #1 until she was 3 and #2 until she was just over 2 and #1 had the worse teeth. Mine also used to fall asleep this way.

        It’s a pity something so relaxing could have had such a long term effect.

      • That’s interesting. It might just be a coincidence of course. I don’t want to publicise anti-breast feeding information especially breast feeding that goes on for longer than 6 months which is all people seem to do these days. And the overall benefits for mum and baby are so good. But maybe it’s a good idea to brush their teeth after the last feed at bed time. It’s always hard to wake a sleeping baby though.

  3. Sorry to hear about this. If it helps; I recall a study that showed the greater danger was from starches caught between teeth. The worst being crisp fragments or similar. So, I suppose, the helpfullness of flossing. I hope that Elizabeth has an easy a time as possible. 🙂

    • Thanks, Graham. Fortunately she doesn’t seem bothered by it other than no longer being allowed juice and treats. I’m starting to learn that flossing is quite important from a young age.

    • At least for me, my teeth got a lot cleaner when I stopped eating grains. Before I could brush as often and long as I wanted, but my teeth would still be somewhat sticky after brushing. Afterwards, I sometimes feel I may not even have to brush, but still do so out of custom and it probably does help some; flossing is still important to fight tartar. No idea why grains were important, maybe the immune system got stronger or the teeth have more minerals because the improvements in digestion and the mineral blockers in grains.
      I do not think we understand well why, but diet is probably very important for dental health. If anyone has the time, I have wanted to write a post, “Fruit juice is the coke of the middle class”, for a long time, but never got to checking the numbers whether it is really true that juice hardly contains any vitamins and minerals any more, except for some vitamin C in orange juice. One indication is that packages of juice never contain nutritional information. If the numbers were good, you would expect them to proudly mention them.

      • It might be the glutens that caused stickiness. If so then it would help the starches to adhere giving them time to digest into sugars in the mouth. ??? Overall, it is probably best to stop eating.

        Although, some people seem to have more problems than others. Perhaps the toothpasts that desensatize by blocking the porous aspect would help. ??

      • I’ve never heard that grains could be a problem. Although I’m vegan (and my teeth are perfect btw), my children are not. They both eat everything, including meat.

        Fruit juice is bad news though, I agree. It started when we went to the UK and they had juice at the buffet breakfasts of hotels we stayed at. The kids loved it and started asking for it so I began buying it at home. I never touch it myself though and I shouldn’t really let my kids touch something I think is bad for you.

      • For me the main point of the linked article was the importance of the vitamins A, D and K. They are fat soluble vitamins, just eating meat may not be enough, you need to eat the fatty cuts and offal, which is not popular nowadays. Half of the animals is thrown away nowadays because people only want to eat the leanest of the muscle meat, which ironically is the part that can be replaced very well by plant protein.

        I was just in a super market in America. They even had no-fat Greek yoghurt. As a stupid European I thought Greek yoghurt was defined as having more fat as normal yoghurt. Butter from NZ is highly priced in much of the world because much of the cows are raised on pasture. (Is that actually still true?)

        You get most of you D from the sun. In Australia many people seem to fear the sun because of the hole in the ozone layer. Is that similar in NZ? For me the best protection against sun burn (and thus skin cancer) in summer is getting as much sun as possible in spring.

      • Yes, most of our cows are raised on pasture I think. And Australians and New Zealanders are very cautious with the sun. We have highest rates of skin cancer in the world (or so I’m told, haven’t checked). I really don’t think someone with my skin type is at risk of vitamin D deficiency. This is more of a problem for people with darker skin. I have regular blood tests to test for all sort of things and I’m never deficient in anything. Although I’m not sure whether they specifically check for Vitamin D. I’ll ask my doctor next time I go.

      • Victor,

        For me the best protection against sun burn (and thus skin cancer) in summer is getting as much sun as possible in spring.

        I just want to say something specifically about this. The sun in Australia and New Zealand is really fierce. Much more so than in Europe. Too much sun here can happen in as little as 10 minutes and sun burn typically involves blisters and peeling. The recommendations are appropriate for Australia and New Zealand and we have good reason to fear the sun. Kids aren’t allowed to play outside at school here unless they have their hats. They can now, in winter, but not during summer, early autumn, spring.

  4. What bad luck. I didn’t realise that dentists did crowns for baby teeth. Would you consider feeding the kids fluoride? My brothers had fluoride tablets when young and it really protected their teeth from cavities. Still, some people are reluctant to use the stuff.

    • I’ve thought about Fluoride tablets actually. I’m pretty sure Auckland’s water is fluoridated. Not sure about Christchurch though. Might be worth looking into.

  5. Well you should know Rach that I thank you for being the reason that I didn’t get a filling (and then only a little one ) before the age of 24. I remember when we were little & living in Chapel Hill, you said to me ‘if you brush your teeth properly twice a day you will have nice teeth with no fillings like me.’ I thought you had pretty nice teeth and thereafter religiously brushed my teeth. TJ still says I take too long to brush my teeth at night!

    You shouldn’t feel guilty at all, some people are prone to cavities and some people are lucky. TJ lived on fizzy drinks and only brushed his teeth once a day (at a stretch) for years. He still has perfect teeth!

    • Thanks, Liv. I’m glad I was a good influence. My teeth are perfect too. I never need to have any work done when I visit the dentist. I have one filling which was given to me by a dental nurse when I was at school and which my adult dentist reckons I didn’t need. Hence my distrust of dental nurses.

  6. Rachel, I am surprised that you use a toothpaste with fluoride. Recent literature shows that fluoride is highly suspect and does more damage to teeth; totally contrary to what we are led to believe in earlier decades. It is also very damaging to bones. I have the devil’s own job of finding toothpaste without fluoride. I also use bottled natural water to avoid it because Rio’s water supply is fluoridated.


    • Yep, I’m definitely a fan of fluoride, AV. I think the latest research is that fluoride is good for our teeth and certainly every dentist I’ve ever seen has recommended a toothpaste with fluoride in it.

  7. awww, poor sweet girl! Everyone is different and maybe her teeth are just more porous than her brothers and that made them more susceptible to certain issues? Don’t blame yourself, it sounds like you’re doing an excellent job with their eating habits.
    We went to a children’s dentist when my monsters were that little that had TVs mounted in the ceiling and my kids would get to pick a movie and watch it while they get their teeth cleaned or whatever it is they were doing. Worked great. Now they go to the regular dentist and act like cats avoiding a bath when they have to sit in the chair…Oh, and they won’t floss either and they’re 11 and 13 now.

  8. I feel for you Rachel. It’s hard to understand why these things happen (unless you feed your kids a predominantly sugary diet which of course you don’t). I gave my kids Ribena which was heavily promoted for kids because of the high Vitamin C content. Much later I realised it had a very high sugar content too. Mum and Dad had all their own teeth until the very end but I’ve had root canal therapy and 3 crowns. BTW I strongly agree with you on the benefits of fluoride. Fortunately for Elizabeth, these are her temporary baby teeth and she’s receiving expert care.

    • Thanks, Susie. It could have been prevented had I been flossing her teeth from the age of one. So it’s understandable and it is my fault. It’s good we’ve worked this out now though before she gets any of her adult teeth.

  9. I’ve never flossed my kids teeth! No one did – I’m not even sure dental floss existed then. Is this something parents are advised to do now from the age of one?

  10. Rachel

    Please don’t be so quick to blame yourself. Your children have different dental health outcomes on the same diet. Perhaps genetic variability is the key here.

    I am 49 and have no fillings. As a kid I brushed only before bed and floss was unheard of. The dentist tells me my teeth have a thick enamel layer, which was presumably inherited.

    Our child is now almost seven and has never flossed. No fillings or any dental health issues.

    Blame your partner for a dodgy tooth enamel gene unevenly expressed in your offspring.


    But seriously, stop blaming yourself. You may be innocent.

    • I appreciate your comment, BBD, but I’m an adult, I can handle it. As long as my daughter forgives me later. Fortunately the word “crown” has a special meaning for a four-year-old but in a good way. 😉

      • I’m not clear what you are guilty of, Rachel. You didn’t give either of your children silly amounts of sweets and you didn’t know Elizabeth was more vulnerable to tooth decay than Daniel. You were assiduous about brushing and used proper toothpaste. What more could you have done? Where did you fail as a mother? For what does your daughter owe you forgiveness?

        We all know that women feel guilty and are embedded in a media culture that fosters this. But you may be innocent 😉

      • I should have flossed their teeth. I also have a vague feeling that the dental nurse mentioned flossing to me at Daniel’s four-year-old checkup which was a few years ago now. A dentist told me that Elizabeth’s problems are a “preventable condition” which is essentially a guilty verdict.

      • May I agree with BBD? In retrospect it is easy to see that priorities should have been different, seeing every problem coming in advance is an unreasonable expectation.

      • I can see humans 50 or 100 years from now saying, “But no one told us it was going to get this hot”, and “But we didn’t know the sea level was going to rise so quickly”, and “But we didn’t realise the crops would die” …

  11. I’m going through the exact same thing and I am also riddled with guilt. My two older children have never had any problems at all but Miss 4 needs at least two crowns and some fillings. I’d say my children’s diet is almost identical to that of yours. Sweets on special occasions or if we’re having a movie day or something, no fizzy drink, one small glass of orange juice a day. I’ve been told she has weak enamel. I’ve never flossed the kids teeth, to be honest I didn’t know anybody did, and even if I had I can’t say for sure I would have bothered. Now though … I wish I had. I’ve been told its not so much what they eat but how often they eat (acid attacks) yet I was always told that letting children ‘graze’ was a good thing. I feel that as a mother I should’ve known and done more. While the crowns may be on the back teeth I think they might be visible when she does her big cheesy grin and I feel like that is all on me. I don’t think I can say anything that hasn’t been said by others, maybe we do take it all on too much, but maybe knowing you’re not alone will help a little. It helped me a little to read your blog.

    • Thanks, Naomi. I really appreciate your comment. I don’t know anyone else who flosses their four-year-old’s teeth either. We do it everyday now and it’s not the easiest thing to do, I must say. She doesn’t like it much either.

      She has the crowns now and you can’t really notice them unless she opens her mouth wide. You can’t see them when she smiles and they’ll fall out by the time she reaches her teens, thank goodness. She quite likes them because they’re called crowns. She thinks she’s got special princess teeth and I’m not going to shatter that illusion. 🙂

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