Tooth Story

Our twelve year old son took a whack in the mouth while playing rugby this morning, and he was rubbing his jaw throughout the first half of the game. At half time Over-protective Dad insisted on checking out his mouth to make sure all was well before the second half.

As I examined his teeth for any sign of a dental emergency I was struck by the fact that he still has six baby teeth in his mouth. I thought about our older daughter and when she lost her baby teeth, and I decided that it was time I shared a piece with you that I wrote around this subject three years ago. Here it is reproduced below in full, I hope you like it.

Tooth Story

While watching TV the other night my 12 year old daughter lost her last baby tooth munching a flapjack. My wife smiled and placed the tooth in a tiny jewellery box with the rest of the set, and put them away for posterity. My daughter was amazed to see that my wife had kept them all and we began to reminisce about the loss of her first baby tooth many years earlier, on holiday in South America.

We had been staying at my Brother-In-Laws beach front apartment in Salinas in Ecuador at the time. A quick trip to the local supermarket for provisions had seen our 5-year-old daughter Aisha equipped with a shiny new Little Mermaid toothbrush. She clutched it tightly in her chubby little hand all the way from the checkout back to the apartment.

She could hardly wait to open it, but silly Daddy put toothpaste on her old brush that night, so she reluctantly agreed to wait until morning. Early the next morning she came to our bedroom holding her mouth, and wearing an ‘I’ve got something to tell you’ expression. “What happened to you?” I asked sleepily. She opened her mouth and to our utter horror there was a gaping hole in what used to be her perfect Colgate smile. The toothbrush packaging was made of a hard plastic and she had tried to tear it open with her teeth but the plastic had proven stronger, and one of the central bottom teeth had been wrenched from her gum.

After a desperate search we found the little white peg on the bathroom floor, close to the toilet bowl. Carefully, I washed off the tiny ivory treasure and dropped into a half a glass of semi-skimmed milk. It was clearly hopeless to expect to find a dentist at 7.15am at the beach on a sleepy Sunday morning so strong leadership was required. “I am going to try to put it back myself”. I declared grimly, as if it were a life or death situation.

Carefully I drained the milk from the glass and washed the tiny tooth. Aisha dutifully opened her mouth and I slid the tooth back into its socket. It fitted perfectly and it seemed at first that the patient would make a full recovery. “Now Aisha, don’t wiggle it, or touch it with your tongue or it will come out again, it needs time to bed back in.” I said in my best bedside manner.

“Ok Dad.” she replied obediently, and settled down to watch a cartoon.

Aisha had been nil-by-mouth for almost an hour, before finally succumbing to her hunger. She tried very hard to eat her jam sandwich breakfast at the sides of her mouth, but her efforts were in vain. First she munched, and then she crunched, and out popped poor little ´milky´.

Denial and grief passed quickly and we soon moved on to acceptance. Nature would take her course and the tooth fairy her pound of flesh, or at least a gram or 2 of ivory. That night we debated how much money we should leave under her pillow. Too little would leave her crestfallen, too much (I feared) might send her reaching for the pliers. We settled on three dollars and a stern warning the following morning against deliberate acts of self-mutilation.

Aisha’s first adult tooth was soon almost as high as the one she lost. Her gappy smile became a badge of pride earning her bragging rights and a new-found status amongst her peers as the first in her class to undertake this right of passage. As for the tooth, that is carefully stored away with other treasures from her babyhood in the little box in our bedroom.

I realise now that in trying to save her baby tooth I was trying to hold on to something more. Now instead of preserving the moment I am enjoying the process. Life goes on, teeth fall out, children grow and change. We the lucky parents are their companions; fellow travellers on their path, privileged to witness and participate in their incredible journey.

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