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I Don't Do Teeth

Tonight my middle one came at me with her mouth open, crooning, “Look, my tooth is loose.” So I had to look. She asked me. And as a good mom, I had to look. But I didn’t have to like it. I just had to pretend to be okay with looking. So I looked.

There in my middle daughter’s packed-with-grownup-teeth teen mouth was her last baby tooth. Behind it, crowding it down and out was a new molar. I was amazed by the location of this new tooth; it seemed nonsensical, wrapping around the old molar like a car that has just rear-ended another. I was also amazed it was still in there. We had been waiting on this last one to vacate its spot so we could begin phase two of her orthodontia work.

Reaching in gingerly, I willed myself to feel it. My timid touch confirmed my suspicions – it was “hanging by a thread”. By the time I saw these cherished baby teeth they were always hanging by a thread. Ready to fall out, but not without a little help. A little twisting. A little prodding. A little prying. A little gripping and tugging.

All things that I still cannot, even after years of mothering, bring myself to do.

Don’t get me wrong. I am known to have a strong constitution. I can listen to my husband relate stories of his own oral surgery escapades - complete with cauterizing flesh - while dining on a delicious dinner. I can hold any child’s head, but most especially my own’s, while they vomit into a bowl and then clean it all up afterward. I can touch my own eyeball, prying and coaxing my hard - yes they still make these - contact lens off the cornea of my eye where it has hermetically sealed itself.

But I can’t pull teeth. The mere thought of having to do it makes me shrink back in horror as my child comes at me with a dangling, bloody, begging-to-be-yanked tooth. Perhaps this squeamishness is a relic from my traumatic-dental past, where I spent hours in the chair of a not-too-kind dentist who chided me for both weak enamel and the tears I shed as he worked away without Novocain. Or perhaps it is from reading the children’s book Dr. DeSoto by William Steig one too many times. Goodness knows I have a love-hate relationship with the photo of the fox’s bloody tooth, finally pulled free by the winch of the good doctor, dangling above Mrs. DeSoto.  

So while most kids have fond memories of their brave and adept parents extracting their baby chompers, my kids do not. Yes, Dad has yanked a few, but he sticks to his customary laid-back-parenting-approach when it comes to floppy baby teeth. “Give it a day or two, it is sure to come out on its own,” he will say to the money-hungry child already dreaming of laying that pearly white under their pillow that very night.

But most of our daughters’ teeth have been pulled by non-family. My oldest has had a few removed by neighbors, her first by the girl-next-door who was still sporting some of her own baby molars when she performed the gruesome deed. My middle one had several twisted, ever so gently, loose by our adult babysitter at the time. And our youngest has so far pulled a good number of hers all on her own, brave thing that she is.

However, given that Dad is traveling for work this week and she can’t very well ask her much younger sibling to do it, I guess the one standing in front of me right now will have to either flick it loose with her tongue or wait until it falls out in her food.

Because goodness knows, I certainly am not reaching in there and playing Dr. DeSoto tonight, or any night.