Updated: Sep 26
There is no doubt, having a baby is one of the most beautiful experiences in a woman and man's life.
But ask any new parents (or just observe them) and you will see that the first few years of a babies life are incredibly difficult to navigate. Suddenly the challenges of pregnancy seem like a dream because this gorgeous little being, that you wouldn't swap for quids, becomes the entire centre of your Universe. And what a big and demanding centre it can be . . .
The attention that all babies require, the tears and upsets that must be comforted, and the need to be fed and changed all take centre stage of your existence. Then there are the normal and endless demands of life that do not stop just because a baby has arrived. Add the financial pressures of modern life that often press us to go back to work earlier than we might choose, and chronic sleep deprivation (a recognised torture method!) to the mix and you have the perfect set up for parents to neglect themselves.
This self-neglect creates the problems that I see too often in my daily dental practice. Most often new mums, but also new dads, come in to see me and they have active tooth decay and gum disease, sometimes for the first time in their life. And then there are the people who are too overwhelmed and busy to make time to come back to the dentist until their child is 5 years old! I wish I was joking, but I am not!
The hardest part for the dentist is supporting people to get their self-care back on track.
Try to tell an exhausted person who has a 'to do' list with no end in sight, and a crying baby that they need to brush and floss more often. . .
. . .oh, and eat less sugar.
If I had a dollar for every time I have been told 'you don't understand how hard it is' by a new parent after offering them the 'self-care' conversation, I would be able to comfortably retire.
But this is what I know as a dentist:
If you neglect yourself, you will probably get tooth decay and/or gum problems. Our bodies do need our care and attention - the same care attention as a baby needs. It is so interesting that we would not neglect our baby's needs, when we might be willing to neglect our own . . .
Tooth decay and gum disease are expensive and time consuming to treat - as well as unnecessary. Prevention is so very simple with good oral hygiene. It is an investment you are making in yourself and your own wellbeing.
Bad habits are so much easier to develop than good ones. This is the strangest thing about human beings. It can literally take one cigarette to get hooked on a habit that takes 10 years to quit. Getting back into a regular exercise routine can be difficult to do once you have stopped (speaking from experience). Daily oral health practices are exactly the same. Do what you can to stay on track - it is worth the effort to keep going rather than stopping and trying to start up again.
Your oral health sets up the future oral health of your child. When we share food with our children, use the same fork or spoon with them, or wipe their mouths with a handkerchief moistened with your saliva, they get our bacteria. This might sound gross to you, but it is actually an unavoidable and very natural process. Your good oral hygiene means that you have healthier and better quality bacteria to pass on to them. This sets up your child for a healthier dental future.
You you have good oral hygiene, you are showing your child that caring for yourself is important and valuable. Our actions speak louder than our words. Every time you brush and floss you are showing your child a level of care that they unconsciously absorb. The power of this cannot be underestimated and will pay dividends later on. One day that baby will be a teenager who will call you out if you 'do not practice what you preach'.
Talk honestly to your dentist. If you are struggling to get on track with your oral hygiene, talk to your dental healthcare practitioner. Most of us do understand and will support you find ways to keep self-care simple.