Welcome, Mamma Crew! Today is Kiddos Tuesdays when I discuss issues related to the kids.
Becoming the mother of preemies can be pretty overwhelming. Depending on the particular challenges, you are faced with more doctor or hospital visits; more concerns when taking care of them, and to some degree, you face an uncertain challenge because the doctors are not shy about telling you that your child — or children, in my case since I had twins — will have developmental delays.
They never fully explain what that means. Or they didn’t explain what that meant twelve years ago. So it fills you with a perpetual state of anxiety. Like most parents, you’re second-guessing yourself constantly about whether or not you’re doing the right thing but here, the possibility of making a mistake seems to increase exponentially. You just can’t let your guard down. Invariably, you do, though. Or, such as my case, I thought I had all the bases covered. I did absolutely everything that the pediatricians told me to do, no matter how ridiculous I thought it was, whether I agreed with it or not, I did everything they told me to do to increase the possibility that my children were going to grow up to be healthy, happy children and adults.
But as it turns out, they don’t tell you everything. My pediatrician never told me about preemie teeth — I mean, what is preemie teeth?!? No idea. Because they didn’t tell me anything about it! So as my girls’ baby teeth came out, I soon noticed that they had little brown dots on them. I was really disturbed by this. I mean, I have to be honest with you, I didn’t get a cavity until I was 52 years old and only because I’m taking medication that depletes the enamel in my teeth!
It’s the same way with my sisters, so I was really shocked to find out that my kids had brown spots in their teeth and that these brown spots could easily turn into cavities. Now dentist number one, and yes, he was a pediatric dentist, told me not to worry about it — I was exaggerating. All the mothers are just like that, you know. Yes, he was that condescending. And he told me to brush my kids’ teeth with toothpaste that had xylitol in it.
So I did — I brushed, and I brushed, and I brushed and I got the kids to brush. And it became this game, the brushing. And I bought them other foods that had xylitol in them because he told me that it would be good for their teeth.
He didn’t mention that too much xylitol gives you diarrhea and gas! And by the way, the teeth never improved. Of course, everyone judged me. Wasn’t I a professor? Didn’t I know better? Why wasn’t I taking care of my babies’ teeth? I was doing everything within my means to address the problem! But nothing was happening. Well, let me rephrase that — nothing positive! The brown stains were getting bigger. And of course, people judged me.
I did let my girls drink bottles till they were… I’m going to say, five. Now there were a couple of reasons why I allowed this. One was because every time we took them off the bottle, they would lose weight. And up until the age of eleven, both girls were still underweight. This was a perpetual concern in the pediatrician’s office. So I allowed them to continue — with the encouragement of more pediatricians, I might add! But of course, the caveat is that we are taught in society that allowing our children to have these bottles can rot their teeth. Well, you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t. What can I say?
The other reason was, frankly, my cousins had grown up with parents that had allowed them to have bottles until they were six. They gave them up on their own free will until they were ready. And they had healthy, strong teeth.
My siblings and I were in the same position. We have great teeth! And we gave up the bottle around the age of four — there my mom insisted because well, she said we were getting a little too old. The reality was she didn’t want to deal with making the bottles. But the whole point was that neither of them nor we ever had cavities! We had healthy, strong teeth all of our lives.
But here were my children drinking tons of milk with all that calcium and yet they had those brown spots that were quickly becoming cavities. Since dentist number one was no help, I decided it was time to talk to dentist number two, who shall also remain nameless because he was also of absolutely no help.
In fact, he explained that he believed that several of the teeth needed to be pulled out. Emmy’s teeth and seven of Andy’s teeth. And he was gonna do it in his office, all-in-one go. And I asked, “Well, exactly, how is it that they’re supposed to sit still through this?” And he was like, “Oh don’t worry, I can put the fear of God into them and I’m gonna tie them to the chair!”
Uhhhhh… Yeah… Over my dead body, you’re going to do that!
So here we go — dentist number three. And in case you’re in the Traverse, Michigan area, I’m going to give you the name of this office. They’re called Northwestern Michigan Pediatrics. And Dr. Mandeville is the greatest! The staff is wonderful! But Dr. Mandeville is just amazing. He was the first dentist who took the time to explain to me that I was fighting a lost… not battle — but war.
My girls had preemie teeth. So back to that. What is preemie teeth? Well, the formal term is hypoplasia, but it really just means that your children are born without enamel on their teeth. You know, enamel — that clear protective coating that keeps your teeth protected? Well, my kids didn’t have it. Or rather their teeth didn’t have them. So, as a result, their teeth were more porous, softer and far more prone to cavities.
All this time that everyone had been criticizing me over the milk bottles, it turns out it made no difference whatsoever. Even if they had not been drinking the milk, they would have still gotten cavities from any other food that they ate no matter how much I brushed their teeth because they had no protective coating on their teeth!
Now I’m going to admit something to you that I didn’t even admit to my husband. My husband does know that I hate to cry. I hate it! It gives me a headache and frankly, I’ve never felt like it does anything for me. It stresses me out more than it helps me release any kind of tension. But that night I cried in the privacy of my shower. And I cried, and I cried, and I cried. I had spent so much time doubting myself — blaming myself for my girls’ teeth. People had made it so difficult with their constant willingness to criticize that I had really begun to doubt myself; my ability to recognize and to do what was best for my own children.
Now I have to admit that I can be judge-y, okay? I think we all have that in us. And I am more judge-y of moms than I am of anybody else. But I try very hard to keep those judgemental thoughts to myself because there’s one thing that I’ve learned over my life — all 53 years of it — and that is there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as my grandmother used to say. As mothers, we make different choices, and we make those choices based on our family, and our children, and our own backgrounds and our knowledge. And we’re doing what we truly believe to be best for our children. No one has the right to criticize that. And if they’re going to judge, they should keep their thoughts to themselves.
As women, as mothers, we should be there to support one another, not to tear each other down or bring each other down. So yes, I cried. I cried with relief and to this day, I am so thankful for Dr. Mandeville, telling me about preemie teeth and explaining what it meant, just as I am grateful for the subsequent treatment for my children.
In the case of Emmy, she needed to get several silver crowns — and he called them “princess crowns.” Let me tell you, that little girl was so thrilled to have her princess crowns. They never bothered her that they were silver. She was always happy. And he even saved the front little tooth that she had cracked in a little accident that I will discuss later. But he saved it! So her smile was saved. He didn’t pull a single tooth. And he did it all with kindness and gentleness. It was a wonderful experience to see him treat my daughter this way. My daughters never ever feared the dentist because he was so gentle.
In the case of Andy, she needed far more work than Emmy did. And Andy also has ADHD. At this point in her life, we hadn’t figured out how to help her manage it. Dr. Mandeville thought that going through two or three sessions to fix her teeth in his dental chair would have been torture for her — and for us, who would have seen her crying and struggling. So instead, he decided to book a hospital session. So basically they put her under, they fixed all of her teeth and she never really felt it.
Now, this was one of the times that I did fail my children. I failed Andy, in that this was the first time I was dealing with the hospital after several major surgeries, the first one being a bowel resection. Then I had a retrocrural _________ removed; gallbladder surgery; surgeries to be able to become pregnant; and a c-section; a gallbladder removal… Being back in the hospital was a little bit like being shellshocked. I just couldn’t take it.
So I asked my husband to please go back when she awoke from her surgery but my husband was on the phone — I don’t remember why — and the nurses told me that she was feeling very anxious, that she was crying so I had to steel myself; get over my fear and get in that room. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to function. I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to comfort her. I wasn’t sure that I wasn’t going to be hysterical myself.
And then I saw her frightened shocked face. She woke up in a strange place. And her mouth wasn’t hurt — actually, I’m still in shock by how little she complained, or how little swelling there was. More than anything, she was just frightened that she awoke in a strange place without her mom. And as soon as I walked in there, she just calmed down. I remember spooning her from behind and holding her and gently caressing her hair, and she stopped crying and she just nestled against me and she wanted the IV off like any other toddler would. But she was completely calm. She had no problems waiting until the nurses were ready to take off the IV; the doctor saw her; spoke to me — she was calm.
And then I realized I would never make that mistake again — whether preemie teeth, stitches, surgeries, procedures — I knew that every single time I would be there for my children because there is an inherent comfort in having your mother with you, isn’t there, that exceeds the comfort that medication can give you. And I realized then and there — it didn’t matter that I wasn’t perfect — she needed me. And I was going to be there for her and all of my children thereafter.
It’s a good thing that I made that decision too because let me tell you, oh, they’ve given me some scares! You’ll be happy to know that Andy didn’t lose any teeth either. He crowned them or he covered them. But the bottom line was she kept all of her teeth so that idiot of a dentist who wanted to pull seven of her teeth, and three or four, five of Emmy’s was completely incorrect.
All of their teeth stayed with them up until this year. They are just a few months from turning 13. I mean, it’s so amazing! I can’t believe I’m saying that! I’m going to be the mother of teenagers pretty soon.
But all their teeth, they came out naturally — the way they were supposed to! Some of them had little princess crowns, some of them did not. But they had all their teeth from their childhood, thanks to Dr. Mandeville, who did a fabulous job, and to Dr. Eloise from Main Street Children’s Dentistry and Orthodontist in the Orlando area, who took over for Dr. Mandeville when we moved from Michigan to Florida — also an incredibly gentle and patient dentist. I highly recommend him!
So is there a moral to this story? The moral of the story for me is doctors don’t tell you everything. Do your own research. You can’t rely on them. You need to rely on yourself because you will need to be your child’s best advocate.
But the bottom line is this is rarely going to matter anyhow because we can’t control everything. No matter how good or bad a mother we are, we just can’t control everything. Nor can we protect them from everything. Sometimes the best thing that we can do is travel the path that they’re on with them. I know I get that helpless sensation that I’m sure you’re thinking of. That horrible feeling of “What good am I? What am I doing here if I can’t do anything about whatever is going on in their lives?” Be it an accident, like when Emmy needed nine stitches, or helping my child cope with ADHD; or helping my baby boy cope with the fact that he isn’t going to get a normal set of teeth.
Whatever the case might be, sometimes, our job as a mom is just to be there; and despite the fact that I hate crying, I’m going to tell you — if it makes you feel better, cry. It’s ok to admit to yourself that you can’t control the situation. Just know that the most important thing is that you’re there, supporting and loving your child. And in the end, that’s all that matters.
So that’s what I learned from preemie teeth and my girls’ journey through the baby teeth potholes!