Dentists’ Dangerous Diet Talk

Pediatric dentists (1)Reader Alissa was just trying to get her kids good dental care. Instead they got a mouthful of bad nutrition advice.

She says:

This was the second time we had seen this dentist. The first time, they went on for a long while about food, but this second time, my mother went with my kids, so I wasn’t there.

Over the dinner table, my daughter volunteered this thought: “When the other kids eat raisins at school for snack, I’m not going to, because the dentist said they were bad.”

I emailed the doctor giving her feedback that my daughter had taken away this horrifying idea from their food lectures, and that perhaps if they wanted to discuss nutrition so deeply, that they get trauma and eating disorder-informed training. Because diet doesn’t occur in a vacuum… there are already social messages being sent to children about food and body size.. and to ignore this just to talk about cavity reduction is naive.

This dentist called me the morning after I sent the feedback via their system, and she was incredibly defensive. She seemingly wanted to call to convince me that talking about food with young children was a totally great idea. She also wanted to convince me that no one has ever complained about it before so why did I complain? At some point I even had to say “Why did you call me?” Eating disorders are on the rise in children, and perhaps pediatric dentists aren’t really helping that, even if they feel like discussing food could help cavity reduction. “

The dentist, Alissa found, sends home a big chart about food, “they basically have a policy against like… all crackers… all dried fruits… all sweets… they are cool with veggies, meats and cheeses. They give a talk in the beginning of the appointment about it”. Her dentist was upset about her negative feedback and claimed that pediatric dentists are being told to talk more about food with the children (who are brought to them for dentistry services.

In truth, this whole thing is obnoxious and quite possibly dangerous. Nutrition (other than discussing things like brushing after eating) should not be the purview of dentists, and certainly not pediatric dentists who are seeing kids in what is often a high-stress situation, of which the kids have almost no control or way out, at a time when the likelihood of developing an eating disorder is raised. Unless they have advanced training in nutrition and preventing eating disorders, pediatric dentists need to stay all the way in their lane and stick to teeth.

If you have kids and you are taking them to a dentist, it might be worth a conversation with the dentist to make sure that there’s no diet talk in their dentistry or fatphobia in their fluoride treatment. A lot of the points from the experts in this article may be helpful for the discussion.

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6 thoughts on “Dentists’ Dangerous Diet Talk

  1. Wow. So many healthcare practitioners step out of their scope of practice, thinking they’re doing a public service. Dentists can be crucial partners and helpful detectors of eating disorders in kids with bulimia, by looking for swollen glands, enamel erosion and tooth and/or gum weakness from purging. This dentist really needs to stick to advising kids to brush after eating whatever sticky or sweet foods they choose to eat to avoid dental caries.

  2. Great, great, what’s next? No really I’m askin’ this one seems obvious, but blows me away…
    STFU and check my teeth!

  3. And I thought it was invasive when the orthopedist I saw for a mildly fractured wrist sent me a letter drawing the fact that I was obese to my attention. I’d never have known otherwise. 🙄 I think discussing facts like high sugar foods are more likely to cause cavities is probably ok, but the gist should be something like to rinse or brush more often, not “raisins are bad.”

    1. I agree with this. While there are foods that can increase risk of oral issues and I’d expect dentists to inform patients of those risks, I’d also expect them to be aware how easily fatphobic microaggressions can be hidden in seemingly sound dietary advice and be on proper guard to make sure it isn’t sneaking into their practice. If you’re a dentist whose fat patient comes in with no cavities and minimal plaque buildup, but you’re still tempted to spend 45 minutes of a 60-minute visit preaching the dangers of sugary soda and fatty cheeseburgers, you need to do some soul-searching about why you’re picking this specific patient to yell at, and whether or not you’d want to yell as badly if they were thin.

  4. I sincerely hope that mom can find another dentist. The only food conversations I’ve ever had involved what can do the most harm to my teeth either while I’m eating it, or because it sets up my mouth for bacteria unless I brush or drink water afterwards.

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