Monday, March 16, 2009

Dentistry for Amateurs

Despite my numerous protests, my daughter Lilah went ahead and turned six last October.

Around the same time, she also discovered that one of her front teeth was loose, an equally disconcerting development that she never tired of flaunting.

“Daddy look!”
“Oh…wow. That’s, uh…wow.”
“See how much I can wiggle it?”
“Yeah, but let’s not play with it too much, okay? We don’t want it to come out before the new one is ready, right?”

Lilah had already lost two lower teeth, but I just didn’t feel prepared for the front ones to go. The way I saw it, their departure would be the first big step in remaking her adorable little-girl grin into something new, unknown, and far more likely to snarl at me when I asked her how her day was. She was already growing up way too fast…couldn’t we just keep the baby teeth a little longer?

That feeling proved fleeting though—Lilah’s tooth soon became so unhinged that it was actually unsettling to look at. She would be telling my wife and I about something that had happened at school, but I’d find myself transfixed by this errant fang, trying to imagine how it could possibly remain attached while sticking out at a 45° angle. The tooth drove Lilah crazy too, flip-flopping around uncomfortably at every meal. Clearly, the thing had to go.

So every morning at breakfast, we’d give the wonky tooth a once-over, and every morning, we’d reach the same conclusion: “Oh yeah—that thing is coming out today!”

But six weeks later, the tooth was still holding on, and evicting it became a full-fledged hobby for me and Lilah. We’d dedicate an hour to it on Saturday mornings, Lilah testing the tooth in the mirror while I egged her on: How far can you push it back? How much can you pull it forward? How much can you twist it? But despite our efforts, the tooth remained stubbornly attached, gradually acquiring a disturbing bluish cast that even Lilah’s classmates mentioned.

I will admit that it was tempting to reach in and yank the thing out myself, but something made me hesitate. I’d had a similarly maddening tooth when I was a kid, and my maternal grandmother had decided that she would be the one to remove it—her father had been a dentist after all, and she was still in possession of his tools. Retrieving some antique pliers from the collection, Gram reached into my mouth and, with one swift motion, yanked the tooth out of my head.

Or, that was the idea anyway. She’d actually extracted the tooth beside the wobbly one, but you know...close enough.

Strangely, this story only convinced Lilah that we needed some pliers—or at least help from her friend Shanna, the preschool classmate who had inadvertently removed Lilah’s very first tooth. During a momentary lull at circle time, Shanna had asked Lilah if she could try wiggling said tooth, and somehow ended up twisting it right out of Lilah’s jaw. This was very exciting to the rest of their class—apparently bloodshed was rare at circle time—but once order had been restored, there was much joking about Shanna’s bright future as a dentist.

Thankfully, neither the pliers nor Shanna’s help proved necessary. Lilah was at the mirror doing her dental calisthenics one morning when the tooth just popped free. Lilah spat the tiny thing into her hand and we both stared at it, shocked. It seemed impossibly small, hardly bigger than a tic-tac really. How could something so tiny have caused so much trouble?

A second later though, Lilah all smiles, charging downstairs and yelling to my wife, “It came out! It came out! Yaaaay!”

This relief lasted until the next morning, when we discovered that Lilah’s remaining front tooth had tipped itself into the vacant space, essentially leaving Lilah with one very crooked, very central tooth. Thankfully, this configuration didn’t last that long—the leaner popped out two weeks later, opening a spacious, lisp-inducing gap in the front of Lilah’s smile.

So here we are: change has come, and more is coming as the two new front teeth inch their way into view. I still can’t say that I’m happy about all of it, but I’m trying, since I have little choice in the matter. And I know that soon enough, those two lost baby teeth are going to look even smaller than they do now.

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