April 4, 2017, a mom came to Radical Unschooling Info to ask a question. She got lots of good feedback but pissily deleted the whole thread and left the group.

Below is what she deleted, but luckily a couple of us still had the window open. I have taken her name off. (Note the link to the toothbrushing page Joyce Fetteroll had already collected in the transcript, and at the bottom.)

Controlling Mom:

Brushing teeth morning and evening. How do you approach this with a 6yo?

He knows why it's important, we've sat down and explained (along with the dentist) the importance of good oral hygiene. If left to his own devices or gentle reminders he kind of just doesn't do it lol. If I insist it becomes an argument and battle.

I do well with routines myself and typically wake up, get dressed, brush teeth, put coffee on then wake up the kids. Should I promote a routine like this? If so how to introduce it while respecting his autonomy?

Sandra Dodd
-=- If left to his own devices-=-


Distance is created between the mom and child by use of phrases like that.

Our best way was to brush with the kids, together, or at least be in the bathroom with them.

Joyce Kurtak Fetteroll
I have a collection of radical unschooling approaches to cleaner teeth.

Cleaner Teeth

From Brushing Teeth to Cleaner Teeth
Radical unschooling ideas to move from brushing teeth to building a toolbox of ideas for cleaner teeth.

Controlling Mom
So I looked over some suggestions and I see the cause of the issue but struggling with finding solutions.

He says that brushing his teeth hurts. Lightly brushing causes him to whine in pain. I don't know if it's his cavities, if he has sensitive teeth. I'm not sure.

Games and gimmicks don't really resonate with him. I get Star Wars tooth brushes, try to play games or songs which he just rolls his eyes at.

Any suggestions appreciated:)

Deborah A Cunefare
If he says it hurts, believe him. Explore that together with his dentist, how to brush without hurting, how to stop the hurt.
Controlling Mom
Oh I definitely believe him, I don't think I implied otherwise. We do have a dental appointment coming up. I will definitely bring it up.
Robyn Coburn
Twice a day might be too large a goal.
Lisa J Celedon
My son said it hurt too for a long time. Different people have different sensory systems and different things might feel weird or uncomfortable, and maybe not forever. I used to feel that way too as a kid but now I brush my teeth fine with no discomfort.

But getting a cleaning with a dentist, using anything too abrasive in my mouth (spin brushes, the spinning cleaner thing dentists use, toothpaste with stuff added to increase abrasion) all bother me a lot.

My older son (7) sometimes wants to brush his teeth, and will sometimes take me up on offers to brush teeth together. Most of the time he doesn't want to, but will eat carrots (we both feel like these make our teeth clean... not sure if that's true, and I haven't suggested to him it's a good replacement for brushing teeth) at night after or instead of eating stuff that will stick to his teeth at night.

He wouldn't use toothpaste for a long time bc he hated the taste but now has a flavor he likes enough to use (one he didn't like before).

He's showing increasing interest in things like personal hygiene and care. He just started brushing his hair sometimes before we go out, and he gets his own socks and underwear from the dresser.

His teeth, almost all of them, will fall out soon and be replaced. He has time to grow and develop into a person who understands good oral hygiene.

Controlling Mom
That's one thing I assure myself too, he has two adult teeth but the teeth with cavities are all baby teeth.
Alicia Gonzalez-Lopez
Let him find brushes and toothpastes he likes..brush his teeth for him, he's still very little. For a long time my kids only brushed their teeth just at night and I always helped them.
Monika Zaman
Have you tried getting him an extra sensitive brush or using one designed for babies. This helped my youngest a lot. Also I sing the ABC song while brushing her teeth. Sandra had mentioned it in an article. That has given us so many tender loving moments over the years. My eldest will also request I brush her teeth and sing to her.
Sandra Dodd
-=-Games and gimmicks don't really resonate with him. I get Star Wars tooth brushes, try to play games or songs which he just rolls his eyes at.

-=-Any suggestions appreciated:) -=-

You read a collection of ideas and rejected the whole thing without trying any.

If games or songs make him roll his eyes, your relationship with him could use gradual, longterm improvement.

Pretending to think about suggestions for a few days before rejecting them would be more courteous, and you *might* find that pretending to think about something could turn to actually considering it.

You read a little with a "no, no, this won't work" attitude," it seems, and didn't get to any other steps.

Read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch.

What you're doing isn't working. People are offering you ideas.


Read a little...
Understanding comes from gradual change.

Sandra Dodd
-=- I see the cause of the issue but struggling with finding solutions. -=-

Do you WANT to keep struggling? Or do you want to live more gently and peacefully?


Your words matter, to your thinking, to your soul, to your relationship with your child.

Negative approaches to peace
Unschooling shouldn't involve battling, struggling, fighting.

Controlling Mom
Alright Sandra, I appreciate you trying but you are not respecting my personality which is straight forward. I won't get into a conflict with you over this.
Sandra Dodd
I sent a note on the side. I'm sorry you didn't see that before posting this. The sole and only purpose of this group is to help ALL readers understand unschooling better. I have no interest in conflict, nor in respecting any personality which you seem to be saying will keep you from learning.

Your child needs for you to learn, if you want a more peaceful, productive life, which will help unschooling flourish in your home.

If you want support, below is a link to a collection of actual messages from strangers to other strangers. It might give you the illusion that they respect your personality.

If you want help (which I assume you do, as you joined this group and asked a question), then read a little, try a little, wait a while (meaning don't post ANYTHING else for days), and watch (your own feelings, your results, watch for improvements).


Controlling Mom
I appreciate your suggestions regarding the issue but not necessarily with my language. I did not ask for support with my language. I know you think you are helping but you actually aren't. If I have questions re: philosophy I will be sure to ask you, as of now I'm trying to trouble shoot a situation.
Controlling Mom
People approach learning differently and at different intervals.
Sandra Dodd
-=- I know you think you are helping but you actually aren't.-=-

There are hundreds of people reading this. If one of them was helped, then I am actually being helpful. It's likely more than one person was helped. If you weren't one of them, you don't need to admit that.

I asked you not to post for a while. I deleted another post in which you thanked those who were helpful and asked for more ideas. There will likely be more ideas here, but they are brought for everyone, not only for you. Stop batting things away.

Joyce's link included LOTS of ideas, as did mine, if you would read them thoughtfully, as was suggested.

Controlling Mom
Alright, I think this probably isn't the group for me since I have received condescending and disrespectful comments aimed at me specifically. I encourage you to look back at your words and re-evaluate how you use your language to dismiss adults seeking help.
Sandra Dodd
You've been in this group since summer 2016. Did you think it was a fix-it shop, and you waited until you had a problem? If you had read during that time, your life could've been easier by now.

I'm trying to help children have more peaceful lives, not trying to soothe the controlling tendencies of their resistant parents.

Back to the actual discussion, away from the non-conflict
Sandra Dodd
All my life I rinsed with cold water, because my mom gave me cold water and said DO THIS THIS WAY. When Holly was little, she used warm water. Many times since, I have remembered to do that.

Try warm water for washing and rinsing. It makes the toothbrush a little softer. It avoids the shock of cold water on places where the gums might have been disturbed, or where there might be cavities or sensitive places.

Sarah Dickinson
My kids prefer not to stop what they're doing so I use an electric toothbrush (faster) and do it for the younger ones wherever they are. If it's not a good time then they'll tell me but we don't discuss it generally, I just walk in with a toothbrush around the time we're winding down for the night. Then all they need to do is go and spit which they don't mind doing.
Tara Graham Mara
When tooth brushing became a battle in my home, I took several steps back and dropped it for awhile. During this time, I explored my own ideas and fears around tooth care. I also thought about all of the options available to us.

After my fear cooled, I was able to see how tooth care and joy could coincide. So many little changes happened in me around this issue that listing out what now works seems insignificant (think tip of the iceberg) in bringing joy to this area of my children's lives.

I dropped talking about brushing.

I noticed how often I thought about what the kids "should" do. In the grocery store when we walked by the toothbrushes and toothpaste, if something captured their fancy, I said yes and bought it.

In the evening, I put their favorite paste on their favorite brushes and handed them out so they could continue doing whatever they were previously doing.
If they refused, I sweetly offered to brush for them.
If they still declined, I let them be.

This is where we are now. And this is no longer a struggle and is instead an area where joy blossoms.

Sue Sullivan
"He says that brushing his teeth hurts. Lightly brushing causes him to whine in pain. I don't know if it's his cavities, if he has sensitive teeth. I'm not sure."

You could say that your son "whines in pain" or you could say it's painful to him.

One of those casts doubt on what he is experiencing and paints him as manipulative, the other supports him and takes him at his word.

We have a wonderful dentist who affirmed my teenage daughter's recently surfaced tooth and gum sensitivity.

She didn't dismiss her complaints that regular cleaning suddenly became excruciatingly painful for my daughter.

She confirmed that a significant minority of people have very sensitive teeth and that it makes standard dental care practices excruciating, and when she herself experienced a procedure in dental school that left her teeth temporarily sensitive, she felt a deep empathy for all her patients who experience this.

She is extremely patient and flexible, and as a result, she has reduced my daughter's anxiety about going to the dentist significantly. She has also been willing to do cleanings half a mouth at a time under anaesthesia, and do them just once a year. She figures the benefits are likely to be equivalent to twice-a-year cleanings and she understands the long-term costs of forcing people into painful dental procedures of questionable efficacy (see below.)

We searched and searched for a dentist who was willing to listen, be empathetic and find creative workarounds for our kids.

I share her feedback in case it can help you to accept what your son is telling you about his teeth, to hear it from a professional that this is a real thing and it can create huge dental anxiety and phobia if ignored, if people are pushed to get dental care (including teeth brushing) regardless of whether it hurts them, or whether the adults in their lives—parents or dentists—believe that it hurts them.

I encourage you to read Joyce's page more thoroughly, because it sounds as though you are still looking for ways to make him brush his teeth twice a day, rather than seeking to understand how complicated and uncertain our collective knowledge is about what causes and what prevents cavities, and rather than seeking a way to more peacefully support your son's dental health.

I'm not writing this as an advocate of some sort of alternative dental practice, but out of conversations I have had with my very lovely dentist, who acknowledges that the number of cavities people is often completely unrelated to the strictness of their dental care regimen.

Genes play the largest part and cannot be toothbrushed away, both she and the other dentist in her practice acknowledge.

She does recommend regular brushing and cleanings, but only because that's the best she can offer, not because it is any sort of guarantee.

She also told us the story of an engineer who hated, hated, hated brushing his teeth (and one can imagine where that hatred started.)

He had done some complicated calculations that the dentist didn't understand (or at least didn't manage to relate to us clearly) that led him to believe it would be just as effective for him to come in twice a year for cleanings as to brush his teeth twice a day.

Sure enough, the dentists and hygenists have seen no difference in his mouth than in a diligent daily brusher's mouth.

Writing all this up, I feel like I should interview my dentist some day and write up her perspective in more detail. I hugely appreciate her honesty and frankness about the limits of what is known and what can be affected by dental practices large and small.

Laura Calvert
Hi, it's not clear if you try this already- but in our household, when someone has resistance around something, simply acknowledging that feeling (validating) tends to really help us move forward. Perhaps let your child know that you recognise that something about the process is uncomfortable... And maybe consider asking if they have any ideas to try to make it better/nicer. Or offer some ideas yourself. Also brushing teeth with adults helps for us and counting/ telling favourite poems/ songs while we brush children's teeth tends to hold their concentration/ help with engagement.

Tooth decay — genetics and food.

Jo Isaac, a biologist and unschooling mom, wrote "I saw your tooth page but missed the post in the middle of my night" (she's in Australia):
This topic fascinates me, because my son has hardly ever brushed his teeth. I'm not exaggerating, maybe once every two weeks, until very recently. The first time we went to the dentist he was 6, and I was nervous! The dentist positively RAVED about his teeth! Complimented me on what must have been my rigorous brushing regimen, and obviously I must have been strictly controlling sugary foods and drinks (!).

My son is now nearly 11, and every dental visit so far has been similar. Amazing teeth — assumptions by the dentist that this is because of dental hygiene and diet, when it quite clearly isn't that simple.

So I looked into genetics. His Dad has good teeth. My parents have okay teeth. I have a lot of fillings from childhood, but I think in the 70's that was more preventative than the fact that I actually had cavities.

It is well established now that diet and dental hygiene play only a minor role in dental health. Dental caries are the result of a complex interplay among environmental, behavioral, and genetic factors In fact, genetics can actually determine what type and where you get a cavity — for example if you get a cavity on an incisor or a molar (Shaffer et al. 2012)!

A strong determinant of whether you get cavities or not is your mouth bacteria, which is also strongly genetically influenced. If you have the Streptococcus mutans bacteria, you are highly likely to get cavities. And also Lactobacilli can protect against cavities (Slayton et al. 2005).

Acid produced by bacteria like S. mutans is what causes cavities — the bacteria interact with a protein called tuftelin found in tooth enamel — amount of tuftelin in individuals is strongly genetic (known as "enamel formation genes"). Bacteria are triggered to produce acid when you eat carbohydrates — any carbohydrate — from bread, potato, pumpkin, crackers, whatever... Brushing could help remove the carbohydrate, but it won't stop you getting cavities if you are susceptible.

R. L. Slayton, M.E. Cooper, M.L. Marazita (2005) Tuftelin, Mutans Streptococci, and Dental Caries Susceptibility. Journal of Dental Research

Shaeffer et al. (2012) Heritable patterns of tooth decay in the permanent dentition: principal components and factor analyses. BMC Oral Health, 12:7.

[Jo and her husband are both biologists and have access to that top link through university libraries, I suppose. The second one has more of the study online, but the first is only the abstract. Many readers will also have professional or academic access.]

Questions about teeth, dentists, from Radical Unscholing Discussion and other links

A good story about a dentist visit, and diet, and trust

Joyce's Collection of writing on children's teeth

Being with children