Just Brush Your Teeth, Children!

I enjoy most of the duties of motherhood. I like reading stories and combing hair and packing lunches. I’m happy to play catch and foursquare and go fish. I will cheerfully juggle schedules, wash uniforms, and applaud enthusiastically for in-house musical concerts. But why is it that dental hygiene requires so much energy? Seriously – I am so over teeth.

My son lost three teeth last week – such is the life of a 2nd grader – and I’ll admit that I failed to muster much enthusiasm for the milestones. I flat-out refused to allow him to put the teeth under his pillow, insisting on a glass in the bathroom instead. No tooth fairy pretext, either. I handed him a dollar bill in the morning and we called it a day. I didn’t even realize he’d kept the teeth until I discovered them in a ramekin on my kitchen counter three days later. Finding teeth in your cookware is a deeply unsettling experience, but that’s just the phase of life we’re in right now. I guess I should be thankful they didn’t wind up in the macaroni and cheese.

I’ve written before about the Herculean efforts required to shepherd my offspring through a visit to the dentist, but even the more mundane rituals of dental maintenance require significant emotional investment. Just brush your teeth, children. Don’t make me ask to smell your breath in an effort to determine if the task if complete. That’s not fun for me, though you seem to find it hysterical.

My son has developed an ingenious response to my daily queries about teeth-brushing. To avoid admitting to non-compliance, he responds with: “I did already, but just to be safe I’ll go do it again.” I love that kid.

Maintaining my own pearly whites involves a fair bit of angst as well. My New Year’s resolution for 2017 was to “be brave” and it only took me ten months of living that mantra to go to the dentist for my first checkup in two years. I dutifully wrote “call the dentist” on my to-do list every day for months, those three words glaring accusingly at me from the paper at the end of each day.

It’s just that I don’t like the dentist. Oddly, it’s a phobia that has developed since I’ve been an adult. I actually liked the braces that I wore in middle school. True story. Everybody had them so there wasn’t any stigma and I got a kick out of changing the colors of the rubber bands to match the seasons. I’ve always enjoyed thematic accessorizing. My orthodontist wore a toupee and you could peek up under it as he leaned over, but other than that alarming sight, it was a pretty painless experience.

I think my issue started in college with several encounters with dental hygienist that was inaptly named “Patience.” She did not embody her name. In any case, these days the sound and feel of metal tools against enamel are enough to make me break out in a cold sweat.

But we face our fears and move on. I found a lovely local dentist (hi, Dr. Boyd!) whose team was the essence of gentleness. The same day that I got my teeth cleaned, I also got my annual flu shot. Go big or go home, friends.

Now if I could just convince my youngest child to stop swallowing her toothpaste.

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