A lot of the shame comes from the fact that I knew better. Granted I didn't know better when she first started budding teeth, but by the time they started decaying faster than I could blink at around 18 months old (at the same exact time she started putting on 5lbs every month - coincidence?) I absolutely knew better. I'm a loud and proud proponent of a truly healthy lifestyle, one not based on the food pyramid or other popular ideas of nutrition which are mostly vegan and whole grain heavy. I believe whole heartedly in the power of healthy animal fats, meat, and plenty of vegetables, raw and cooked.
If you really want to tell me, "You're doing x, y, z wrong," take a number, I've already got the first 50 tickets. Addie is the way she is for a whole host of reasons, almost every single one of them I can identify as being my own fucking fault. This isn't a pity party, I own up to every mistake I have made with her. It's probably the pregnancy hormones, but I have to hold back tears every time I look at her. Remember in The Matrix when suddenly Neo can see everything in code? That's the life I live. Suddenly I can see everything I do, or someone else does, or what is in the environment, every last little thing I can see harming her body. I'm hyper-aware of the damage being done to her and I really, really doubt anyone can tell me something I don't already know a hundred times over.
My problem has never been and never will be a lack of knowledge - I just don't follow my own damn advice and in some cases I'm outright prevented from doing so.
Tooth decay is not caused by bacteria. Don't get me wrong, bacteria and acids contribute to it, but strong teeth can go forever without being brushed and never decay, as long as the teeth remain strong. How do you get strong teeth? Nutrition. And that is an oversimplification, because there are an assload of environmental and genetic causes that interfere with nutrition taking effect, so even when you're eating really well, it can still be an uphill battle.
I was so anal about everything that went in her mouth before she turned a year old. Then we moved to Washington, then she started eating solids more regularly, then a million and one things happened, and it all went down the toilet very quickly. It was easy to keep the junk food* out of her mouth prior to a year old, but then she started to get big temper tantrums, she was learning to manipulate with cute faces, and the fights with what seemed like every single person on earth about my nutritional ideals really started up. Me saying no was seen as controlling and spiteful towards whoever wanted to give her something. It wasn't about me being a mother, it was a personal offense to someone else.
*While my definition of junk food includes McDonald's and candy bars, it also includes white bread, vegetable oils, juice, popsicles, graham crackers, and other foods most people consider "healthy" and perfectly fine for children
What most people don't seem to realize is that for my daughter, with her genetic coding, with her life starting off from the get go with nutritional deficits, something as inconspicuous as a PB & J sandwich is tooth decay on a plate. What everyone else doesn't think twice about giving their children, for Addie it's a recipe for disaster. Even organic peanut butter is full of phytic acid, which strips away minerals necessary for healthy tooth structure. Low-sugar jams will still cause a blood sugar spike that depletes the body of phosphorus and calcium, both critical nutrients for teeth. The bread is a double hit with both phytic acid and carbohydrates, not to mention inflammatory wheat. For most kids, this is a healthy lunch, but for Addie it was just one part of what got her to this point. Most people assume I must be shoveling candy down her throat with the way she looks when in reality she eats less food of better quality than the skinniest kids with the shiniest teeth. I can give you examples!
If I was to feed her an anti-tooth decay diet and heal her teeth (yes folks, it is in fact possible) I would have to spend most of the day in the kitchen preparing a lot of expensive food, and all of the cheap fillers most poor families rely on would be an absolute no-no. She would need to take expensive supplements every single day. If we went anywhere, I would need to have prepared snacks and meals to take with us - we would never, ever be able to eat out or have meals with family. We wouldn't be able to have her babysat by anyone who was not willing to abide by her dietary restrictions at all times. Just going to the store would be a stress-filled nightmare as almost everything on grocery store shelves are off limits.
I actually did this diet for about a week, early in my pregnancy. I spent the entire day sick because I was so hungry since we couldn't afford the amount of food necessary to keep both of us fed for the whole day sans cheap fillers. We couldn't have any food in the house she was not allowed to have. When my husband brought home bags of croutons, it was like World War 3 between me and Addie - an hour long scream fest because she didn't want to eat vegetable soup for lunch, she would have rather snacked on croutons.
After a week, I gave up, like I had done time and again with her nutrition. I get sick of the stress and really sick of fighting with everyone who thinks I'm full of shit about how much food impacts health. Everyone wanted to blame it on something simple, which of course with the social stigma surrounding "baby" behavior in toddlers, it took no time at all for the bottle to be targeted. Surely it must be dumb old mom babying her that is causing her teeth to rot.
I recognize that growing stage between babyhood and childhood, when a toddler blends into both worlds. Addie still had, and continues to have, a strong urge to nurse. She behaves in an identical manner to a breastfed toddler, strongly associating the desire to suck with the presence of her mother, even though she was never breastfed. So, I let her continue to have a bottle, even if she was using it separately from my presence. This brought up the common idea of "bottle rot", which despite being disproved, remains pervasive.
In all my research on the matter, I found that every single story I had ever read from another parent about tooth decay in toddlers, it always involved the top 4 front teeth. Even when tooth decay is mentioned in other teeth, the decay begins in the top 4 front teeth. This is true for bottle feeding, breastfeeding, and toddlers who weaned completely from an early age. It never mattered how the toddler was fed or how often the toddler brushed, their top 4 front teeth always decay.
In the rampant use of bottles over the last 50+ years, this was how the idea of "bottle rot" was created, assuming that the placement of the bottle up against those 4 teeth must be the cause of the issue, whether it was milk, juice, or water. If it wasn't a bottle, sippy cups were to blame. If it was breastfeeding, then suddenly the milk on the teeth was the problem, even if it didn't make any sense from an anatomical perspective since breastfeeding shoots milk past the teeth. In short, it's a bunch of bullshit that people cling to when they have no idea what is really causing it.
Despite having been weaned, Addie's teeth are worse than ever. We don't even let her suck her thumb for more than a few minutes, and yet they continue to decay every single day.
One culprit behind the decay that I can't really prove at this point because her teeth are so far gone, I can't compare them to other cases, is fluoridated water. I always knew fluoride wasn't good for teeth and had read about fluoridosis, but didn't give it much credit because it was supposed to be this rare thing from consuming fluoridated water constantly.
The problem? Addie was consuming water constantly, all day long in fact, and had been since she was 8 months old. She had fluoridated water in everything she consumed for over 2 entire years. I thought the water in my parents' town wasn't fluoridated and didn't think twice about making her formula with tap water when we had to move in with them for 3 months. When we moved to Washington, I stupidly assumed that surely people near Seattle would never be so ignorant as to fluoridate their water. Addie began drinking sippy cups with tap water, she had homemade kombucha with tap water, and I continued to make her formula with it, not to mention all of the cooking I did with it, including bone broth. This continued until we moved to Lake Stevens when I finally decided to check the water report and yep, the entire county has fluoridated water. It wasn't until she broke off her tooth that I finally stopped allowing her to have tap water, adding another expense to our list.
The biggest tip off for me was when I looked at pictures of fluoridosis again and saw the classic browning around the gum line, exactly as I remembered Addie's teeth looking as they began decaying. It wasn't just "soft spots" or a little shadow on her teeth, it was a giant swath of brown across the top of each tooth, appearing almost overnight. I was so embarrassed for allowing her teeth to begin decaying despite everything I had done that I never took pictures where her teeth showed very much, so I have no evidence of it now. The worst part? Regular tooth decay rarely affects adult teeth, even severe decay that isn't drilled & filled, but fluoridosis does. There's a very good chance Addie's adult teeth will come in decayed, even if her remaining teeth are pulled out.
And yet despite all that, despite that huge concern, anytime I mentioned it to doctors, it was blown off. "No no, I don't think that's the cause." I'm just told to make sure she brushes her teeth properly, because clearly that had been the problem all along. She gladly brushes her teeth several times a day, even doing it without ever being prompted. Brushing her teeth is not the problem and never has been.
Now that her teeth have decayed this much, it has become essentially impossible to reverse the decay without a very strict diet and lifestyle. That one week I did do it, her teeth grew a ton and were brilliant white, I saw the results right before my eyes. But as soon as I stopped? The new growth chipped away because it hadn't been given a chance to strengthen yet. Every single thing that does not help heal her teeth is in effect helping to decay her teeth. This of course gives ample fuel to anyone who questions the idea that tooth decay can be healed to simply say it's impossible no matter what. It's a lot easier to just say it can't be done than to own up to every bad decision that caused it in the first place and try to do something about it now.
Everything about this situation is hard. I can't even talk about it without a huge amount of emotional energy because I know I can't do any more than I'm already doing. There is no one to help figure out what else is going on with her body that is preventing what measures I can take from being truly effective. The few doctors and dentist I had been able to get her to have been completely unhelpful. When I try to advocate for her with family and friends who take part in her care, my wishes are disregarded, largely for the same reasons I give up - it's too much effort, too much thought, too much stress.
It's easier to pop open a box of crackers when she whines about being hungry for the millionth time than it is to prepare a proper plate of food. It's easier to hand her a corn dog than to make sure she eats enough vegetables by modeling enjoyment for them. And then I get into another vicious cycle because I know I'm doing her wrong, I know I'm fucking her up even more when I hand her a sandwich instead of homemade soup, I get depressed and stressed out, sinking further into the hole that keeps me from willing the energy to do better for her. Her tooth decay is one of a dozen other issues I deal with every single day, not including all of the normal life stuff like figuring how the hell to afford rent this month or if we have enough gas to get the grocery store.
Just count yourself lucky if you can absent mindedly give your kid a popsicle or a muffin without it causing irreparable damage. I don't have that luxury, and Addie is the one who is paying the highest price for it.