A Trip To The Dentist And The Plastics Therein

By Liesl Clark

Our Trip To The Dentist and the Plastics Therein. Photo © Liesl Clark

Our Trip To The Dentist and the Plastics Therein. Photo © Liesl Clark

“Please don’t have him eat candy for a day.”

What? I was standing in a dentist’s office, and these were the first words out of the dental assistant’s mouth after my child had some ‘routine’ protective sealant put on his molars. No candy for a day? How about a month or 6? We don’t do candy all that regularly, so to hear her put the limit at 24 hours felt like a license, to my child, for everyday candy in the house, perhaps even a piece or 2 every 4-6 hours. Thank goodness that happy gas was still in effect, for he had a look of mirth on his face while he questioned me about it.

But what I want to know is this: Why is a dental office for children the purveyor of so much cheap plastic crap? This trip to the dentist was truly enlightening for us all — and has served to alter our trust in dental-care in general. I can give you 4 reasons why.

Let me start from the beginning of the visit.

1) That little bin with the plastic junk in it was an early highlight, as our children both chose the same toy so they wouldn’t be jealous over the other’s better choice. Their choice x 2?  A squeezable caterpillar that off-gases more toxic fumes than a shower curtain.

2) Both children complained at how sick they felt from the sweetness of the stuff they use to clean their teeth.

3) Quite disturbing for me was the amount of plastic we left with, each child carrying a little bag filled with free stuff. Here’s the short list of their freebies x 2:

— A new sample-size tube of Colgate toothpaste.

— A single-use plastic applicator flosser packaged in a plastic bag.

— A new plastic toothbrush complete with plastic packaging.

— A plastic baggy filled with those cool pink pills that show you how well you’re brushing.

— A plastic bag to hold all the plastic crap.

— A carton of dental floss (okay this one’s an acceptable freebie in my book as there are no plastic-free alternatives that I know of, yet.)

Well, the kids’ teeth got high marks for cavity-prevention from the dentist, yet I didn’t dare tell him we use bamboo toothbrushes and make our own toothpaste mostly in an effort to reduce our plastic footprint. How is a family to keep up their standards of low-impact sustainable dental care after a visit like that? And we have to do this every 6 months?

On the drive home, as we sniffed our new PVC caterpillar toys now flung in the back of the car, I started wondering if my child truly needed those protective molar sealants in the first place? The molars looked good on the X-rays. “It’s optional, but we highly recommend it,” were the words of encouragement.

4) I looked up the sealant as soon as we got home to see what it was made of and, surprise of all surprises, it’s a plastic resin akin to those found in baby bottles, complete with the same endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as BPA and pthalates. What have we done?! 

Now that I’m well-versed in the the debate over whether dental sealants are safe for kids, I’m kicking myself for not having had a clue. I, the mom who has spent the past 3 years divesting our home and bodies from plastics, opted to seal them into my child’s mouth. Anyone know if sealants can be unsealed without the use of toxic chemicals? Likely not.

Click Through For More Green Ideas for the Bed and Bath at Trash Backwards

Click Through For More Green Ideas for the Bed and Bath at Trash Backwards

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Categories: Plastic-Free Living, Think About It, Trash Pile - All Our Stuff


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11 Comments on “A Trip To The Dentist And The Plastics Therein”

  1. April 23, 2013 at 1:24 am #

    I’m surprised you didn’t take the chance to tell the dentist about all the good you do in your anti-plastic campaign. If you made a stand right there at the source they might not have given your kids all that rubbish. If you go again you could try phoning first, or writing them a letter, explaining you don’t want plastic and why – they might even consider cutting down on what they give to other families. It’s great making an impact and a stand in your own family and having this blog to spread the word, but the message has to reach the unconverted even more than it does those of us who already want to cut down. I am constantly shocked and depressed by how prevalent plastic waste is in society and it needs strong and well informed voices like yours to speak up against it to the people who need to hear that, ordinary people like the dental workers who if convinced could spread the word further. And if they refuse to listen you can vote with your feet and find a dentist who will.

    • April 23, 2013 at 6:52 am #

      By the time the kids were “brought out” to me in the waiting room (they don’t let parents back there,) they already each had a bag full of the stuff. I completely agree with you knotrune, and will do a better job next time. I somehow put dentistry out of my mind in my plastic vigilance and will change tactics in the future. Sadly, this is the 4th dentist we’ve tried for our children and we’re running out of options.

  2. Elaine
    April 23, 2013 at 4:07 am #

    I get your frustration and honestly didn’t see the impact until you pointed it out.

    But with regard to the sealants I believe those are a positive thing for the future healthy mouths of your children. As a member of the “drill and fill” generation I wish I had the benefits of sealants growing up. Anyone can get cavities and filling cavities weakens teeth increasing the risk of fractures and expensive crowns for them as adults. These teeth have to last a life time and if sealants can help that happen they are worth doing. My children both had sealants and their teeth are beautiful. Not like my expensive mouth full of crowns because my teeth cracked 20 years after being filled. Don’t feel bad about the sealants. You did the right thing and used plastics effectively … Not like that Baggie of stuff that helps no one but the companies.

    • April 23, 2013 at 6:58 am #

      Thanks so much for the encouragement, Elaine. I guess I’ll never know for sure if the decision was right. My family has really good teeth. My son hadn’t been to the dentist for 4 years and his teeth were fine. They found a tiny fracture and urged us to fill it, even though he felt no pain whatsoever. What ever happened to the “let’s wait and see” approach? Since we travel to Nepal in remote areas, I took the road of least resistance and had it filled (don’t want dental problems when you’re in the hinterlands) and went ahead with their sealants, too. But, my gut now says I likely didn’t need to do it (my molars are fine after 46 years) and expose him to BPA plastics in his head. I’m learning, I think. Slowly.

      • April 23, 2013 at 10:04 am #

        This opens up a whole other can of worms: fluoride. My son took a fluoride supplement as a kid, and at age 21 has never had a cavity; My daughter didn’t, and has had a few cavities, but not lately now that she cares about her dental hygiene. Neither had sealants, so I don’t think those are necessary to avoid decay in all kids. Traveling in remote areas of Nepal would definitely make me proactive about dental care. I definitely see your reasoning. Another thing to think about is how you may be avoiding future cavities and fillings with BPA.

  3. April 23, 2013 at 5:48 am #

    My kids are older now (17 and 21), but those dental sealants were popular when they were younger. I asked about them, but my dentist said they are only needed in rare cases where the patients’ molars happen to have deep, irregular surfaces. We were lucky to dodge that bullet. You might want to shop around for a dentist who is conservative about recommending ‘routine’ procedures. These profit-driven recommendations don’t serve many patients. In answer to your question about removing the sealant, my guess is that you are right about that not being possible, or advisable. Some lessons learned as parents are painful. Just think, though, that your everyday efforts to reduce plastic in your kids’ lives is lessening the overall burden.

    • April 23, 2013 at 7:02 am #

      Thanks, Verging on Vegan. I appreciate your insight. Parents, be aware, and go into the dentists’ office with as much information about the products being used on your children’s teeth as you can. I wish I had been given this advice 2 days ago.

  4. Katie
    April 23, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Love this, it needs to be talked about more! I have come home from the dentist with just such a bag (minus the caterpillar) way too many times, just because I don’t want to be rude and turn it away. I think the next time I go, I will finally do that. I truly don’t need any more of that stuff. 😦

    • April 23, 2013 at 8:53 am #

      Hi Katie. It helps knowing that others were polite, too, about the plastic “goodies.” Now that we know we’re not alone in just saying no (and that can be done politely, too), perhaps Dentists will curb the practice of plastic hand-outs. Good luck.
      — Liesl

  5. April 23, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    Anything medical in INSANE for plastics use. From single use tools and cups, to the ‘hygiene’ covers on the dentist’s tools. Really gets my back up. Reckon I can BYO my rinse and spit cup? Totally freak them out? But! I never get freebies from the dentist, not ever, not in all my dentists. And I need new floss.

    Oh and I hate the ‘we highly recommend’ – cause my thought is sometimes ‘because it’s profitable, or makes your job less difficult’. I mean in the ‘olden’ days, things got sorted without all the add on extras, and I’m not convinced everything offered to us is an improvement.

  6. May 12, 2017 at 11:11 am #

    But what I want to know is this: Why is a dental office for children the purveyor of so much cheap plastic crap? this is very important thank you.

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