Did you know that kids can get cavities in their baby teeth before they’re even two years old? I sure didn’t – until it was my kid. In the time-span of a few short months, I learned more than I ever cared to know about Early Childhood Caries, or the severe decay of baby teeth (even in a breastfed toddler). And I especially found that it's a tough situation for a mom who is seeking a natural alternative to a root canal or crown in a toddler.
It turns out that it’s a more common problem than you would imagine. The two pediatric dentists that I have spoken with shared with me that they see this problem in approximately one out of five children – albeit not always as early as fourteen months of age, which is where our story begins.
|Chipped front tooth - December 2013.|
It all started with a chip. I noticed one day – around Christmas last year, when she was eleven months old – that Addie had a little chunk missing out of one of her top front teeth. I hadn’t observed her running into anything or falling down, but my house is wild. There’s always running and shrieking and general chaos with two toddlers in the house. I figured it was well within the realm of possibility that she could have chipped her tooth, and thought no more of it.
If you have ever had a toddler, you may be able to appreciate the fact that it’s not exactly easy to look at your baby’s teeth. Toddlers are not usually excessively compliant when asked to open their mouths to let their parents view their pearly whites. I considered it success if I could just get a toothbrush in her mouth, whether I could actually see the teeth or not.
|Broken lateral incisor - February 2014.|
But two months later, when I caught a glimpse of what looked like a broken lateral incisor beside the chipped front tooth, I pried her mouth open amidst great protest to get a better look. And I was horrified. Not only was almost half of that tooth gone, but the chip in the center was larger and there was yellow decay up around her gum line on all four of her top front teeth. Nothing else seemed to be affected, but this was an extremely huge problem. I was shocked and appalled, and in complete disbelief. We may not have brushed her teeth every night since she popped her first tooth, but I think anyone with two kids under age three who manages to get every single thing done every single night at bedtime is a magician – or liar.
|Forgive the filthy mirror. Appreciate the cute, chubby baby.|
I immediately started researching tooth decay in babies. I emailed another (formerly local) blogger, Anjanette from Raising the Barrs, whose daughter had gone through a similar ordeal. I made an appointment with a highly recommended pediatric dentist. I found that Early Childhood Caries is a growing problem. Apparently more and more toddlers are beginning to have teeth just rot out of their mouths. I went to the dental appointment with great trepidation, fearing the worst.
And, as far as I was concerned, my fears were confirmed. I was told that Addie was “just unlucky” – but that the primary cause for this was my allowing her to breastfeed at night. Their recommendation was to immediately schedule a surgery to file down the four affected teeth to remove the decay, then place caps (crowns) over them for the remainder of her baby-tooth years.
I’m a huge breastfeeding advocate. Addie has co-slept almost since birth to allow both of us more adequate rest. There are multiple reasons to breastfeed during the night and I was not willing to accept that by meeting my child's need for comfort and nourishment, I was destroying her teeth. And the thought of putting her under general anesthesia for a surgical procedure at fourteen months old made me sick to my stomach. I started doing more research. I asked friends for help.
I've learned so much about the causes of tooth decay that it necessitates a post all its own, but here's the gist. Tooth decay is not so much caused by having breastmilk on a child's teeth at night as it is by the overall health of a body. And a lot of bodies are severely deficient in crucial vitamins like A, D, and K. When these run out and the body has an oversupply of phytic acid (found in grains and legumes), one of the first signs is a loss of enamel - which leads to the teeth being susceptible to decay. There is also some evidence that her lip tie could have contributed to the problem. I have known since birth that she had a lip tie, but never had it corrected because unlike Lincoln - who had a very difficult start to breastfeeding - she nursed just fine.
I found several stories online about people who effectively halted the tooth decay in their children (and themselves) by following the Weston A. Price diet, drinking raw milk, and adding supplements such as fermented cod liver oil and high vitamin butter oil to the diet. The most widely referenced resource on the subject of tooth decay is the book Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel. I started reading this book and tried to implement all that I could.
|Dentist appointment with Doc and Lambie.|
My plan for Addie's teeth was to heal them and to avoid the surgery. Immediately, I ordered fermented cod liver oil and started giving her BioDent, a supplement from Standard Process. I wiped down her teeth any time food or breastmilk touched them. I brushed them fervently, two or three times a day. She never really ate many processed foods to begin with, but I cut out all crackers and sugar from her diet. When the cod liver oil arrived, she took it willingly - but the liquid form I gave her left her mouth and lips bright red immediately upon touching her. Worried about a possible shellfish allergy, I ceased giving it to her directly and instead took many doses myself, hoping some of the vitamin content would reach her via breastmilk.
This process went on for about two months. I took photos of her teeth as I was able, to document whether or not we were making any progress. For several weeks, I thought that her teeth looked better. The amount of decay around her gum line was reduced and the chips were not increasing. I had great hope. Until one day, when she fell and must have knocked a tooth against something - because the lateral incisor that had been partly missing was now broken off completely at the gum, with a jagged edge protruding into her mouth.
|Lateral incisor broken at the gum line - May 2014.|
I was devastated. Since her adult teeth will not be growing in for at least five to seven more years, as soon as the tooth at the gum was broken, I knew in my heart that we would need to schedule the surgery. Kids need their baby teeth to form good eating habits, to hold the space in their mouth as adult teeth grow in, and to foster language development. As we were now looking at needing to have the broken tooth extracted (something that would need to be done under general anesthesia due to her age), it was not reasonable to skip having the other teeth fixed. The expense and ordeal of the surgery was not something I wanted to repeat if her other three teeth did not heal.
|One of the options for capping her teeth. This was a decision I could not even |
wrap my brain around. You're not supposed to have to think about things like this!
So, a few weeks later, we waited anxiously as our baby underwent surgery to extract the broken tooth and cap the other three. The dentist also found some small cavities in her molars that were filled while she was out. She bounced back quickly - after a few hours and a nap, she thankfully had no lasting effects from the anesthesia and never even needed any pain medication once we were home.
|Surgery prep. May 2014.|
It was not the solution that I wanted, but I have been a lot less stressed since having the procedure done. I do feel that this whole ordeal has been life-changing for our family. I never expected to deal with having dental issues in baby teeth. But since this post is already 1200 words long, I will save my thoughts on how this has changed our life for another time.
|Post-surgery nap. May 2014.|
The point of this very, very long post is this. Sometimes, even if you're not doing anything wrong, terrible things can happen to your kid. Throughout this ordeal, I have cried so many tears - feeling insufficient, blaming myself, wishing I had noticed sooner so that I could have had a better chance at healing her teeth naturally before having to resort to a surgical procedure. And while I still wish we had had a different turnout, I'm grateful for the knowledge I have gained about our teeth and the way our bodies work. It has changed my approach to nutrition and I think we will be better off as a family because of it. I have to find a bright side somewhere, right?
|Extracted lateral incisor (left) and three capped teeth.|
Have you ever heard of healing tooth decay? What do you think about this natural alternative to dental fillings and replacements?
If you are looking for more resources about healing teeth, be sure to follow my Curing Tooth Decay Pinterest board - I'll add more to it as I find new research.