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The “loving headlock”

I’ve got dentist friends who have chuckled about having to do fillings on their kids. They’re proud of how well their little cherub handled anesthesia and glad to know they can get the job done. Good for them, I guess.

I live in fear of the day I might have to restore one of my kids teeth. I have two active, healthy boys. Sean, my oldest is somewhere on the autism spectrum, which actually doesn’t mean much to me. I just know him as Sean. He has little quirks, but in all he’s a pretty regular kid. Jake is a solidly built 2 year old who wants to do everything by himself, including brushing his teeth. The upside is that he wants to brush. All. The. Time.

Not kidding. I got up with him at about five minutes after 6am this morning. His first request was to brush his teeth. Which is fine, but he’s not much on spitting, so I mostly skip the fluoride toothpaste. He’s got an obsessing brushing habit, but he’s not really reaping the benefits of it yet.

Here’s the deal. I don’t want to do fillings on my kids. I LOVE children, but not as dental patients. I handle the really easy pediatric patients, but I can’t hold it together for most of them. I have great specialists that I can refer to. Mostly I do. My pediatric dental goal: “don’t be the experience that this person is telling his/her dentist about in 30 years.” It’s a simple goal. Usually achieved with a referral pad and a smile.

But what about my own kids? Would I actually pay someone else to take care of their teeth? Hell yes. In a second. ┬áDon’t even kid yourself. I’m sure I’ve already given my children years worth of therapy topics and I’m not willing to give them any more when I can avoid it.

My plan to keep them out of the dentist’s chair? I call it “the loving headlock.” I brush their teeth first. Then, if they want to brush their own teeth, I let them. But I get the brush on each surface so I can see it with my own eyes. Buccal, lingual. All of it. How do you do this on two vital, healthy and squirming boys you ask? Let me explain…

I stand behind them and to their right (I’m right handed). I have them stand on a step stool. I take my left arm and wrap it VERY firmly around their chin. I take my left index finger and middle finger (recently washed) and prop their little jaws open. Then I brush. I brush so I can see the toothbrush clean each surface. If I can’t see it, I’m not sure I’ve cleaned it. So I make sure I can see it. It probably takes me about 45 seconds to do all of it. I know you’re supposed to do it for two minutes. But that’s voluntary brushing.

Sean handles this exercise like a champ. I’ve been doing it with him for the better part of three years, so he’s used to it. I give him props, because he’s really strong and could probably wiggle away more than he tries. Jake is still learning. But he’ll get there.

“How long are you going to do this?” you may ask.

I figure I’ll do it until they’re big enough to push me off. Maybe college?

So far, the results are excellent. We’re O.K about avoiding sweets. We avoid sugary snacks as much as possible and we try to eat at meal times and only designated snack times. The kids drink no pop, but they’re fond of juice which is just as bad. But so far, so good.

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  1. I did the exact same thing with both my kids (son and daughter). Except I didn’t have to be as forceful as your description. I didn’t have to prop their mouths open, as they did it voluntarily for me. The brushing-of-the-teeth was a twice-daily ceremony that was enjoyable for my kids. Furthermore, I contend it was another “bonding” opportunity. I changed diapers. I fed them. I bathed them. As did my wife. But, I was the dedicated tooth-brusher. I’m a hands-on dad, and I think it has already paid big dividends in terms of our relationship.

    Of course, it pays dental dividends, too. Never a cavity.

    I also flossed their teeth every time. In fact, as soon as the brushing was over, they’d usually say “Floss Daddy!” Also an enjoyable, bonding experience. It was never presented as a “chore.” It was a GOOD thing to do, and they knew it.

    Now, they brush and floss on their own. My son even threads floss under his retainer.

    Kids with mouths-full of cavities on PBS specials aren’t in that condition because they lack “access to care.” I dare say they lack “access to caring parents.” A dentist can do NOTHING to prevent the devastation of poor dietary habits and a veritable absence of hygiene. But, a PARENT CAN.