Like Pulling Teeth


I woke up at some point in the wee hours of this morning from a particularly disturbing dream in which one of my molars was loose, then crumbled in my mouth. While the various and sundry interpretations of teeth-related dreams speak of thoughts of sexual impotence, powerlessness, death portents, and many other possibilities, I think it was just a simple case of my brain processing the loss of one more of my son’s teeth.

He’s been losing them like mad in the last few months. As he gets closer to eleven, this sudden rapid loss of all of his canines and first premolars is the first real physical sign we have so far that his body is shifting from childhood to adolescence. At nine, his sister is at a teeth-losing plateau. It hasn’t been long enough to forget the differences in their approach to tooth removal.

My girl is a wiggler. She’ll have a loose tooth for weeks, slowly wiggling it with her tongue here and there, biding her time until it gets so loose it basically pops out on its own.

The boy? His approach is definitely the more brutal of the two. He tugs and pulls and twists a loose tooth almost from the first time he notices a change in his mouth. He has horrified subway patrons by yanking out molars, covering his chin and cheeks with blood and spit. He just can’t bear to have it in his mouth once it’s started to loosen, and won’t wait for the underlying tooth to erupt underneath. The drama that accompanies his violent approach is just a bonus, as far as he’s concerned.

Both of these approaches are so foreign to me. I was one of those kids whose teeth just didn’t want to come out. I remember losing my first tooth around 5, when I tripped and fell on my face into the school’s gravel-covered parking lot. After that, it’s a hazy fear-tinged series of half-remembered moments at the dentist where I stayed as quiet as possible for fear of his yelling at me (again) while he extracted yet another tooth. I have severe dentist phobia as an adult and it’s likely rooted in these early experiences.

My kids view tooth shedding as a positive, almost fun thing, and I’m glad. It’s a developmental milestone they can see, and a way they can easily measure that they’re growing up. Let’s just keep positive thoughts that their jaws are growing enough to accommodate everything that comes in, and we can keep the orthodontic fairy at bay.

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