It has been several years since I promised to write you a post outlining how we managed ECCs (early childhood caries) in our home, as well as we handle normal oral hygiene and tooth troubles like decay.
Finally it's time. I'll be sharing three posts with you during the coming weeks:
Part One: Hygiene
I'm starting with hygiene because you can do this today.
You don't need to order supplies or learn a new way to feed your people. This is the easiest step of all.
That being said if you are dealing with decay this step is not a stand-alone. Changing how you brush is key, but changing how you eat (and how you supplement what you eat) will be critical if you want to stop or even reverse decay.
I hope that these posts will give you hope if you are in a place of hopelessness about your teeth or your child's teeth. Because I've been there, worrying about my baby and her (literally) crumbling teeth.
So let's get started, shall we?
We are no strangers to tooth decay.
The picture above shows Lupine at six, the day after she lost her first tooth. You can see that her upper teeth look a little off in this picture.
That's because they were capped, along with her four molars just before her second birthday.
When Lupine was 1 1/2 her four upper front teeth became discolored around the edges. We suspected decay and took her to a dentist right away. He picked at the dark spots and told us there was no need to worry, her teeth were simply stained.
Within a week a small chunk of enamel fell out as I brushed Lupine's teeth before bed.
Her teeth continued to crumble at a frightening pace. I took to brushing her out in the backyard because in the direct sunlight I could better see how much tooth we were losing every time we brushed.
Because of how fast her decay was progressing we made the terribly difficult decision to have her sedated and have her four front teeth capped rather than lose them completely before her second birthday.
Our new dentist called her cavities ECCs – early childhood caries. He told me to stop night nursing. (Many dentists tell moms to wean completely.) He called it "bottle mouth" and asked us how much juice or soda she drank. (None.) He blamed the problem on night nursing, genetics, and possibly poor brushing habits.
I didn't buy it.
So after I pulled myself together I do what I always do – I questioned and I researched and I questioned some more.
I spent every night at the computer, researching tooth decay and holistic care. Our dentist's suggestion that I night wean her sounded like rubbish.
Our species evolved as a bed-sharing, night-nursing people. How could night nursing suddenly be the cause of this post-industrial style decay?
My research was fruitful and I discovered so many amazing facts about our evolution as a species, the pitfalls of our modern diet, and what it really takes to heal damage and create healthy teeth.
We made the changes that I outline below and in the next two posts during the month we we waited for her appointment for caps.
During those four weeks her decay – which was visibly worse each day before our changes – stopped progressing within days.
Let me say that again: her decay stopped within days.
She never lost another chunk of tooth, nor did her cavities worsen at all before her caps were applied the following month.
Even our (skeptical) dentist was amazed.
The steps I will outline in this series is what we did during that month (and for the most part have continued since then) to stop her decay. It has worked for us, better than I ever imagined.
Here is what we did.
Holistic Tooth Care Part One: Hygiene
Until this week our family hadn't been to the dentist in over two years. (I know. I know!) And while avoiding the dentist is not an official part of my holistic tooth care plan (quite the opposite), it does demonstrate how well what we're doing is working.
Because get this: our dentist said our teeth didn't even need a cleaning.
Three of us brush our teeth everyday with LuSa soap (that's right – soap instead of toothpaste). We also use activated charcoal on occasion if see some staining or want to make creepy faces in the bathroom mirror with our temporarily black zombie teeth.
The fourth member of our crew has brushed mostly with baking soda.
After a two year hiatus the dentist told us that three of us (yes, the three of us who brush with soap) didn't even need a cleaning. He scraped at a little tartar and called it done.
"I could clean your teeth," he said, "but they don't need it. At all."
This has never happened to us before.
Two years would have left us with an epic cleaning when we used toothpaste. But not anymore. After two years he didn't even clean them.
And the three cavities he had been watching in various people the last time we came to visit? They hadn't progressed at all. Our decay has not progressed in more than two years.
Why do we brush with soap?
No, it's not to prevent swearing. It's to prevent (or lessen) decay.
Here's how. Our saliva is rich with minerals. Those minerals really, really want to soak back into your teeth to help keep them healthy and strong. The thing is, most commercial toothpaste (perhaps all) is made with a glycerin base. All that glycerin leaves an invisible film on your teeth, preventing the minerals from being absorbed.
Soap, on the other hand, doesn't do this. (Yes, soap does contain a small amount of glycerin, but it's negligible compared to a toothpaste tube full of the stuff.) Soap rinses clean.
Brushing with soap? I know. It's one of those things that sounds super crazy but trust me, it's not bad at all.
And the process couldn't be easier.
Here's how we use soap instead of toothpaste.
How to Brush Your Teeth with Soap
1. Take a bar of (natural and/or organic, no funky ingredients) soap. I prefer my LuSa soap because I make it, I love it, and it's our bread and butter but seriously use what you've got. (That being said, make sure you read the label and if yours tastes horrific please try mine just once before you go back to the paste.)
2. Wet your toothbrush.
3. Rub bristles gently across the bar of soap. (Don't take so much that you see little chunks of soap on the bristles. That will taste terrible. Just a little invisible layer of soapy goodness.)
4. Brush. (This is the critical step, you see. Because, well, brushing.)
5. Marvel at the amazing bubbles frothing out of your mouth like some kind of rabid dog.
6. Rinse. (Yes, you'll probably want to rinse, even if you don't with toothpaste. Otherwise the soap will leave a soapy after-taste.)
7. Be wowed at the unprecedented clean feeling of your teeth.
I bet you have some questions.
Doesn't that taste unbelievably inconceivably terrible?
Not at all. Yes, it tastes a little soapy (being soap and all). But this isn't supposed to be dessert. We're brushing, remember. It's really fine. I prefer it to toothpaste.
Edited to add: three people emailed me that they tried liquid Dr. Bronners they had on hand and it burned like fire. Two of them also had my bar soap on hand and tried that next and said it was totally different. So: bar soap. Not liquid.
My kids will hate this. Right? Capital-H Hate.
I don't know. Mine don't, as the photos here attest. To them it's just brushing. (And yes, once-upon-a-time we also used that strawberry toothpaste from the coop.) Truly my kids adjusted to it completely after just a couple of brushings.
Any other great ideas?
Sure. If you're trying to warm your kiddos up to soap, sprinkle a bit of powdered stevia or xylitol on the bar. Barely any but enough to make it a little sweet for the first couple of days. (I haven't needed to pull out this trick but I suspect it would work like a charm.)
What's our favorite flavor for brushing?
Our favorite soap for brushing is Sweet Soul Sister – tangerine and peppermint. Yum.
Since you brush with soap does that mean you never swear?
Never. (I swear.) Okay. We all swear. The washing your mouth out with soap thing is a myth. Sorry to be the one to break it to you. Sigh.
I can't do it. I'm not even going to try. Sell me on another idea.
Okay. You can also use soap to make homemade toothpaste using this recipe. It's still soap but it's a good transitional soap method since it's blended with other goodies that turn it into toothpaste. (Details below.)
How to Make Homemade Toothpaste
If you just can't get over the weirdness of brushing with soap, how about brushing with a sweet-tasting soap-based toothpaste? Here is the recipe that helped us transition from toothpaste to soap. We made it monthly for years and only switched to soap when we ran out and I didn't have time to make more.
Another promising recipe is found here.
It's just as good for your teeth and will please a more discriminating palate.
Brushing with soap and flossing regularly is all we do around here. However if you're hooked on mouthwash this recipe looks wonderful.
We also use activated charcoal for polishing now and then (I get tea and coffee stains on occasion and they work beautifully on this).
Because Lupine's enamel was very soft when we started down this path I stayed away from anything abrasive. That being said, tooth powder is a lovely alternative for many. If you're sold on tooth powder instead of soap both this recipe and this one look promising.
Some people swear by oil pulling with coconut oil for tooth decay, pain, and other mouth troubles. I've personally never done it nor do I know enough about it to speak on the subject.
And finally, this: If your child is suffering from ECCs check them for tongue tie and lip tie.
A blog reader who was also dealing with ECCs in her family shared fascinating theory with me that has held true with most everyone I have asked. Toddlers with ECCs may have a tendency to be tongue tied (or lip tied). It is a fairly simply intervention to remedy and might help the child latch better to prevent milk from pooling on the upper front teeth. It's just a hypothesis, but when I ran it by a pediatric dentist friend she was intrigued and could see how it would make a difference in the decay of the upper front teeth.
Soon I will bring you part two of this series: diet. (Edited to say: it's up! Have at it.)
If you are dealing with a tooth crisis in your home I suggest you do a little homework now by reading this thread on Mothering.com. It will take you several days to work your way thorough (take your time) but it's absolutely rich with information that can help get your family moving in a healthy direction.
That's it for today. Happy soapy teeth, friends!
And thank you to my kids who happily let me photograph them while they sleepily brushed their teeth this morning. Mwah!
Please note: I am neither a dentist nor an expert. The information above is based on our unique experiences as a family, and is not intended as medical advice. Work together with a holistic dentist and find a course of action that works best for your family.
Edited to add one final note: after I originally posted this series, a reader whose child had ECCs asked me if Lupine was lip tied. I checked, and indeed she was. I began asking everyone I knew whose child had ECCs if they were lip tied, they ckecked, and with few exceptions they were.
I called a pediatric dentist friend and asked her what she knew of this connection. "Nothing." She said. "I've never heard of that being discuessed or researched as a factor for ECCs. But it makes so much sense."
She went on to explain that a lip tie could cause breastmilk or formula to pool on the fronts of the upper teeth, where decay normally begins. If your child is dealing with ECCs I urge you to check them for a lip tie and if one is present to have it addressed. I'm a low-intervention gal when it comes to our bodies, but fixing a lip tie would have been a much simpler journey than dealing with greater decay.
Be well, friends!