Preemie Medical Issues: Lung Function, and also Bad Teeth

Our daughters, J and M, were born prematurely at 33 weeks gestation. Preemies make up 54% of twin births, compared to 9.6% of singleton births, according to statistics gathered in the 1980s. In my experience, conversations with parents or grandparents of multiples eventually turn towards the issue of prematurity, either its reality and the shared bond of the NICU experience, or how lucky some families are to bypass that rite of passage.

Our family’s experience with prematurity was a lot less scary than it could have been, although it felt devastating at the time. Neither of our girls needed help breathing, but they weighed under 7lb (3.2 kg) put together. Their Apgar scores were excellent, but they didn’t have the body fat they needed to maintain their own body temperatures ex-utero. They were released from the hospital over a month before their due date.

Looking at our vibrant, sassy, smart and downright hilarious five-year-olds, no one who isn’t in the know about twin birth statistics would guess that their birth held any unusual struggle. They’re short for their age, but so am I. My 5 ft 0 in (1.5 m) genes appear to have beaten out those of the girls’ 6 ft 7 in (2.0 m) great uncle. M and J have had only two lasting effects from being born before they were quite ready: a susceptibility to lung infections, and teeth missing enamel.

The lung infection issue came as no surprise. Our pediatrician and the NICU staff had warned us that lung complications were common in babies who began to breath when their lungs were still forming. Our insurance covered Synagis, the vaccine against RSV, a virus that gives you and me the sniffles, but can be fatal to a premature infant. I made the monthly trek to the one local clinic that dispensed the vaccines for the entire seven months of our girls’ first cold season. Their second winter, our insurance company deemed them out of danger. Sure enough, first J and then M came down with RSV. It was another three years before we were able to celebrate the retirement of the nebulizer that J used to ease the laboured breathing that kicked up without warning year-round.

The tooth issue, on the other hand, came as a huge surprise.

I thought we were doing everything right in the dental care department. We started using infant finger toothbrushes to massage the babies’ gums well before they had teeth. We added toothpaste when their first teeth broke through, and brushed morning and night, without fail. We brushed their teeth for them until they turned five, and gave them toothbrushes that they could practice with. Before M and J turned two, we introduced flossing, the the form of one-time-use kids’ flossers. To this day they consider going to bed without flossing unthinkable. Our pediatrician praised the girls for their dental hygiene. Even though I knew full-well that dentists recommended a first visit be scheduled at the sight of the first tooth, I put it off until the girls were three.

At their first visit, the dentist discovered cavities in both girls’ mouths. It turned out that both J and M suffered from enamel hypoplasia, or a lack of enamel on a number of their teeth. As luck, or more likely genes, would have it, our monozygotic daughters had hypoplasia on the same teeth. Their cavities were were also coordinated. Identical twins, with identical tooth issues, I suppose.

We left the dentists’ office with fillings, prescription fluoride toothpaste, and another reminder that however far away their premature birth feels, it keeps popping back up. At our next visit to the pediatrician, I told him the sad tale of the girls’ teeth, and he promised to pass along to the next preemie parents he saw the recommendation to get to a dentist soon. And now, I pass that recommendation to you.

7 thoughts on “Preemie Medical Issues: Lung Function, and also Bad Teeth

  1. We were the lucky ones who escaped the prematurity thing and I am constantly reminded of how lucky we truly are to have had full-term, big boys, almost 7 lbs each. We added them to our dental insurance the first year, assuming, like you said, they would have to go to the dentist at the first tooth. Then I read it was 6 months after the first tooth. Then our actual dentist said that no, unless there is an issue (trauma, loosening, etc.) that they won’t need to go until they are 3.

    I am sure most families get the same conflicting information, it’s worth taking them earlier, I think, if we can avoid fillings on baby teeth. Good information to know.

  2. As like Jen (previous comment) my dentist also does see children for first check ups until until 3 or even age 4. I will be sure to talk to him about this when I am there for my check up next month. Thank you for this post!

  3. I’ve been stressed out about L and R’s teeth for some time now. Our paediatrician told us that their teeth might be weak because of the prematurity. She said they will need to see a dentist at 2. We will schedule it soon. Thanks for the real-life story about how their prematurity might come up later.

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