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So THAT’S Teething? Confessions from a Dental Hygienist

Make tooth-brushing fun, even when they're little! Every single day since I’ve been a mom, I’m fairly certain at some point during my day I have wished my kids came with an owner’s manual. Why won’t they just go to bed? Why won’t they just be quiet for one minute? What does that poop color mean? A troubleshooting manual would change my life. (Thank goodness there’s Google or the “phone a friend” option on occasion.)

One large challenge for me as mother has been oral hygiene. I will admit that this was a big shot to my poor little ego considering I am a dental hygienist. That’s right: I’m professionally trained for just this topic, so you can imagine the frustration.

I was out of town visiting family when my first son was 6 months old. One night, he woke from a sound sleep screaming. Not just a little cry, but wild, inconsolable screaming. Tears were streaming down his red cheeks, and he wailed all night long. He wouldn’t take a bottle. He wouldn’t take a pacifier. He wouldn’t calm with rocking or singing. Then I burst into tears. Worst. Mom. Ever. What kind of mom can’t help her baby? Me. I had failed Mom 101 in my book.

Well the next day as sunshine poured in through the window (and I pounded a pot of coffee) there was a shiny white little tooth peeking out of his gums. No one ever mentioned this is what teething is like. He was like this with every single tooth. I just became wiser: Low grade fever. Check. Restless sleeping. Check. Whiny. Check. Now I knew what to look for. My second son, by the way, is the absolute opposite. He is mellow and easy with teething, so every baby is different.

The next challenge I faced, and I am asked about all the time by patients and friends, is, “Now what?” Baby has a tooth, so now what do I do? I started using a damp washcloth to wipe out my son’s mouth and his little tooth. This does two things — cleans the tooth and helps baby to get used to oral care. I also gave him a kid toothbrush with water on it to chew on. As my son got older, I had to become more clever to get him to let me brush twice per day.

There is no shame in parenting. I would sing songs that I made up about brushing. I would do animal impressions. “Be an alligator for me! Oh my gosh, can you growl like a tiger with me? Let’s sing Old McDonald.” I would brush his front teeth on the E-I-E-I-O part.

He is 5 now and has become a great brusher and flosser. I feel a sense of pride when I see him taking care of himself. There were tears on both our parts, but it’s so worth it. Since I’m a dental professional, I must also note (before I’m publicly shamed by my peers) that parents should get their kids to see the dentist for their first appointment between 6 months and 1 year old. If you see something you’re concerned about, call your dentist. And for the love of God, please don’t make the dentist office sound scary. If you had a traumatic experience as a kid, please don’t tell your kids that before or at their own appointment. We are good people trying to take great care of your kid. Help us help you!

Jennifer Barger is a dental hygienist and native Nevadan. She has two boys, Jaxon, 5 and Landon, 10 months, and has been married to their awesome dad for 10 years. She received a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2005. She then went on to receive her Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene in 2010 from Apollo College in Boise, Idaho. She has been working in private practice in Reno since.

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