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Family Matters

What you really need to know about baby teeth

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I’m winging this parenting thing as best I can. I’ve had some experiences that I sometimes feel obliged to share in the event that my trials and errors (and occasional triumphs and exultations) might help my fellow child-rearers. So, let’s talk about baby teeth.
What we all generally know and understand is that kids get teeth. Teeth get loose. Teeth fall out. The Tooth Fairy comes. But what no one tells you, or maybe everyone failed to tell me, is that sometimes when your kid gets teeth, the pointy upper canines can and do sometimes come in before the middle two teeth, leaving you with a smiley, 1-year-old baby Dracula nowhere near Halloween. I also don’t think I quite understood the vast quantity of sleep that two people and one drooly, miserable baby will lose over the growing pains that baby teeth can cause.
And before it was actually our turn to deal with the tooth-loss stage, I envisioned my dentist husband expertly extracting every wiggly tooth in the comfort of our own bathroom with a clean washcloth and one gentle twist. Ha.
What nothing prepared me for was my child yanking out her own tooth in the car in the middle of nowhere on the way home from a remote hiking trail (no dentist dad in sight) and promptly dropping the tiny tooth on the floor of our SUV, which was littered with what seemed like thousands of crumbs of white cheddar popcorn that bore an uncanny resemblance to, yes, her tooth.
On what page of the Dr. Spock book are the instructions for navigating simultaneously pulling over on a dirt road, applying pressure to a bloody socket out of view of a toddler brother, locating a needle in a haystack, and calming a child wailing over the whereabouts of her tooth and worrying over how the Tooth Fairy deals with teeth that have been lost in both the figurative and literal sense?
It never occurred to me that my child would choose bedtime on the night before the first day of school to go into Oscar-worthy theatrics over the state of a front tooth that had dangled by a thread for weeks, yet she refused to let anyone touch it. There were tears. There was great concern over a new classmate teasing her about her cattywampus tooth. There was a solemn vow to go the entire first day without talking or smiling. Our daughter went to bed fully intending to start second grade with her front tooth hanging at a 75-degree angle.
I didn’t think that along with first-day school jitters I’d also experience overnight child choking hazard terror, leaving my husband and me to pull off what I like to think is one of the greatest accomplishments of our 14 years of marriage: extracting a tooth from the mouth of a child without so much as a flinch from my ninja-dentist husband or his slumbering patient. I can’t say the same for the lady holding the flashlight, but we got that sucker out and our second-grader woke up on the first day of school to a gap in her mouth, a crisp dollar bill under her pillow, and the incredible idea that her tooth had been pulled in her sleep by none other than the ultimate dental professional: the Tooth Fairy herself.
And while we’re on the subject of the Tooth Fairy, there are a few things you novice parents ought to know. Apparently, the Tooth Fairy has evolved. We’re not talking about the old-school TF of my day who predictably left one single, shiny silver dollar under my pillow from the time I lost my first primary incisor until the day in late elementary school that my mom sat me down and instructed me to open an old jewelry box of hers that I discovered, with great devastation, contained dozens of pearly teeth that once were in the mouths of my three siblings and me.
Did you know that the Tooth Fairy of 2022 (who clearly has a Pinterest account) takes teeth and leaves behind everything from glitter dollars to tiny letters scrawled in fairy language to corked bottles of fairy dust, and, in maybe the most amazing of all cases, 20 whole bucks for a single tooth? Do you want to know how I know this? Because kids at the lunch table told my daughter so.
And, you might also want to be informed of the fact that these days, if you leave a really nice note on your bedside table, using your very best manners, the Tooth Fairy will gladly leave you the toy that you most desire in lieu of standard currency. You can say I warned you, instead of finding out the way I did: tiptoeing into a bedroom in the cover of darkness to steal a cuspid and slip a George Washington into its place only to find a letter written on wide-ruled paper by a hopeful little girl who addressed it to a certain mythical sprite and asked sweetly for a toy as her prize.
Call me a sucker, but (as I cursed the well-prepared mom of my daughter’s friend who must have made a special trip to Dollar Tree to stock up on Pop Its and fidget spinners for moments such as this) I crept back downstairs and, as the rest of my family slept, cut a miniature rectangle from the corner of a piece of computer paper. On it, as tiny as I could, I wrote, “Dear Sadie, I am too little to carry toys but I am proud of you for having such a clean and shiny tooth! Love, the Tooth Fairy.” I used our Bic grill lighter to brown the edges of the paper to give it some extra enchantment. I rolled it into a scroll and secured it with a piece of dental floss tied into a bow. I searched my bathroom drawers for an old bottle of silver glitter nail polish and carefully applied a sparkly border to the dollar bill. (I hope this is not a federal offense.)
Back upstairs I snuck, where I deposited the wee note and bedazzled dollar on my daughter’s nightstand for her to discover when she awoke. I took her tooth and tucked it away in my own jewelry box and went to bed grateful that sometimes, winging it works.
And, after all, between my two little children and all of their little lost teeth, I’ll only get to do this Tooth Fairy thing 40 times.