Missing tooth

B’s first grade teacher is notoriously less than thrilled about wobbly teeth.  Even less so when they actually fall out.  (An unfortunate issue for a first grade teacher to have!)  But, I imagine, that regardless of how much she doesn’t like it, it’s something she probably has to deal with fairly frequently.  We added to the problem when one of B’s front teeth fell out at school one day in February.  It was a surprise to pick up my little guy from school to find him looking significantly different than he had when I dropped him off!

B had already lost his two bottom front teeth last year, and it was vaguely traumatizing for both of us (for him because anytime part of you disconnects from your body, it’s a little weird; for me because how is it really possible that he’s big enough for that already?!?).  But him losing his top front tooth (followed very shortly afterwards by him losing the other one, creating a perfect storm of little boy cuteness which lasted most of the summer) made me again all too aware of how quickly time is rushing past.

And then, there’s the fact that now, just a few short months later, he has two big, grown-up front teeth, and it’s stopped being strange to me that he does.

I love that B is growing up.  I am so happy that he is strong and healthy and getting bigger every day, just as he should.  But it’s all just happening SO FAST.  I can’t believe how quickly my little guy is turning into a big guy.

Loose tooth

The other day, as we were sitting down to lunch, Benjamin was complaining that there was something stuck behind his tooth.  I took a look, and indeed there was — behind his lower front tooth, another new tooth is growing in.  Upon closer inspection, I also found that the baby tooth it will replace is loose, though B hadn’t yet noticed that.  There’s no denying it — my little guy continues to grow up.

Of course he does.  The milestones have been flying by lately — just last week he had his preschool graduation, and he’ll start first grade (!) in August.  He’ll be 6 in just over a month, so of course there have been many changes along the way — solid foods, walking, talking, potty training, writing, riding a pedal bike.  I would have thought I’d be getting used to the idea of him growing up and changing by now, but I was surprised at how much this one got to me.

Discovering that little sliver of permanent tooth poking through his gum line really did surprise me.  First, it’s legitimately a little ahead of schedule.  But, more significantly, it feels like the training wheels are coming off — for him, for us.  He’s getting his grown up teeth.  The same ones that will be smiling in his high school graduation pictures, in his wedding pictures, maybe even in pictures of him as a dad one day.  Practice time for teeth is over.  If he doesn’t take good care of his permanent teeth, it could lead to lifelong problems, so now it’s show time for great dental hygiene.

It’s also a reminder that all of that is getting to be true for more than just his teeth.  As parents we (thankfully) get a bit of a trial period — a phase where it’s likely that our kids won’t remember every mistake, every bad moment, every time our tempers are lost.  But they get bigger, and the practice period ends, and we get into that part of parenting that goes on our permanent mental report card.  If we drop the ball now, they’ll remember.  We’ll still be talking about it in 30 years at Christmas dinner.  (And that freaks me out, too, because I’m still making plenty of mistakes and having more than enough bad days.)

Even Dan, who is usually sympathetic but uncomprehending in the face of my wistful moments of Mommy sadness as the boys grow up, was more than a little shocked and emotional about the loose tooth.  Getting that first big tooth is a big day, and I’m not sure that either Dan or I was really ready for it.

But B is just so excited.  He can’t wait for it to come out so the Tooth Fairy will come and bring a coin.  He feels big and proud and grown up.  I feel those things, too … but I also feel shocked and sad and freaked out that time passes so quickly and nothing ever stays the same.  I like my kids just as they are.  And though I know that I’ll continue to like them as they grow up, I do miss each stage that they pass through as we leave it behind.  It’s hard to let go of where they were as they move on.

What I said though, was, “Wow! That is so great!!! I’m excited, too.”  Because I am.  But I’m still in disbelief that he’s big enough for grown up teeth.  He’s still my little boy.  But, truly, he is leaving babyhood behind him and becoming, without question, a big boy … who isn’t really so little anymore.  My guy is growing up.  Finding that tooth made me take a step back and look at him in a way that I haven’t before, and it made me realize that he actually stepped out of babyhood a while ago.  I just wasn’t ready to see it.

Delaying the dentist

I’m kind of an oral hygiene nut.  Actually, I’m not as bad as I used to be — in college, my friends used to make fun of (and also, I think, kind of marvel at) my level of fastidiousness about my teeth.  I really like to take care of my teeth.  I’m religious about brushing and flossing, and I don’t even mind my biannual dental cleanings.  I’m weird like that.

007I’ve tried to be careful with my kids’ teeth, too, but since I’m admittedly a bit overly enthusiastic, I’ve tried to temper my concern with age appropriate expectations.  It’s only been moderately successful — I still remember the time I woke up in a cold sweat worrying about Benjamin’s teeth and how he hadn’t yet been to the dentist.  (He was 18 months old at the time.)  Ever since my kids have had teeth, we’ve made sure they brushed regularly (maybe not EVERY day, but very nearly).  We even floss their teeth (although that’s been less consistent).  When B was little and we were in the US, we were sure to use the non-flouride toothpaste, and when he was old enough, we took him to the dentist in the US.  We had a fairly disastrous first experience with a pediatric dentist, and then we started taking him to our friendly, gentle and kind regular dentist, which went MUCH better.  After that first experience, I was worried B would be traumatized, but with the help of our great dentist, he gradually got over his trepidation and would accompany both Dan and I to our cleanings and have his teeth “counted” when we were done.  And all was well.

Living abroad has complicated matters somewhat.  First of all, the water here is not fluoridated.  Some doctors recommend supplements, some advise against (reasoning that if you use a fluoridated toothpaste, which is pretty much the only thing you can find here, the kids will get enough incidentally).  We went without for the first 6-8 months we were here, and then I decided to go for it (I’m still not 100% sure of that decision, since over-fluoridating can cause problems, too).  Also dental care here is not, on average, up to American standards.  After some trying, we found a dentist that we’re reasonably happy with, but it’s not like it is at home.  There’s less focus on comfort with more focus on efficiency, less focus on aesthetics and more on finances.  I’m happy to go there for a cleaning, but we weren’t confident that the kids would have good experiences.  I took B along with me for the first time last fall, and he got his teeth “counted” again (all looked well) — but he’s used to the procedure now.  I wasn’t sure how Liam would take it, since he had no positive experiences to build on, so we haven’t taken him.  I’d just recently been thinking that I would probably try to make him an appointment when we next visited the States, most likely this winter.

And then, about 3 weeks ago, we noticed a spot on one of Liam’s front teeth (not the very front ones, the ones just next to those).  And, of course, being the dentally obsessed person that I am, I freaked out.  Does he have a cavity?  Did he damage his tooth?  Have I been over-fluoriding him?  Is it going to get worse?  Is it going to hurt him?  Will he lose his tooth?  Will this happen to his other teeth?  Will it happen to his permanent teeth?  (That was all in the first 2 minutes of discovering that it wasn’t a small piece of food and I couldn’t scrape it off with my fingernail.)

After calming down, and realizing he didn’t seem to be in any pain, I consulted with our pediatrician.  She wasn’t sure what it was, either, but recommended I have a dentist look at it.  She (also an American, and a parent) suggested that if we were visiting home anytime in the next two months that we just wait until we go home.  But we’re not, so I can’t.  But, I’m with her — I’d rather have it looked at in the US, too.

But, that’s not an option.  So, we made him an appointment with our dentist here.  I’m encouraged by the fact that they didn’t seem alarmed, concerned or overly urgent (nor did they refuse to see a 2 year old, so I’m desperately hoping that they do this all the time and will be shockingly impressive at comforting and reassuring him).  That appointment was supposed to be today.  But, since Liam is still recovering from his recent illness, including being so congested that he can’t breathe through his nose, I decided to postpone it another two weeks.  I just can’t imagine things going well if he’s sick on top of having a new (potentially scary) experience, and I want to set him up for success.  So, in two weeks, we’ll go in and get his tooth looked at.  It hasn’t gotten worse in the past 3 weeks, so here’s hoping it doesn’t get worse between now and then.  I’m worried about my guy.  And I’m really missing the excellent quality of dental care in the US.

Baby teeth

Being a mom comes with an inexhaustible capacity for worry.  It starts during pregnancy:  in the beginning, you worry if everything is ok.  Once you can feel the baby moving, you worry that he isn’t moving enough, or maybe too much.  Every ache or pain causes concern — it’s the physical equivalent of being in a dark and creaky house after seeing a scary movie:  everything is interpreted as a potential threat.  As the nine months wind to a close you start to desperately wish for the baby to be born, in large part because you feel like it will be so much easier to know if they’re ok once they’re on the outside and you can see them and touch them.

But it’s a bit of a nasty trick:  you don’t realize how safe and secure they were until they are on the outside.  The first nights a new mother spends with her baby are sleepless.  Not just because of baby’s need to eat so regularly, but because even when he is asleep, the mother will lie awake listening for each next breath, attentive to every sigh, every movement, every sound.

It gets a little better as the days, weeks and months go on, but the faith you begin to get that they will survive the night is replaced by other worries.  You worry that they’ll get sick — or they do, and you worry about that.  You worry that they aren’t sleeping enough, and then the one day they take a long nap, or sleep through the night, you wake them up just to make sure you can.  You worry that they aren’t growing enough, or that they’re getting too big.  You start to worry about development.  There are milestones that you read in the books, on the websites, that your doctor provides.  Anything that doesn’t quite “make the grade” will inhabit your mind and fester.  You compare your child to the others you see, and try to figure out, constantly, if everything is ok.

I’m going through this with Liam right now.  It’s his teeth.  His first two teeth arrived “on time” (according to the books, websites and doctors) which was a relief.  (Which really just means it allowed my mind to move on to worrying about the next thing on the list of required accomplishments.)  A few weeks later, he started to get his next two teeth, also on schedule:  hooray!  But, a week or so ago, I noticed that those two top teeth aren’t where they’re supposed to be — they’re really far apart.  I can’t tell whether his two front teeth are coming in really far apart, or if he hasn’t gotten his two front teeth at all, but rather the two that are located next to those.

So, worry, worry, worry.  What does this mean?  Will his teeth grow in properly?  Will his two front teeth ever come in?  What will we do if they don’t?  Is there something “wrong” with him?  (Because that’s the worry that is really always in the back of our minds — is there something WRONG.  Which could mean any number of things, but generally means “something that will prevent his life or childhood from following a typical path and/or will make said path significantly more difficult than usual”.)  Consult the books!  To the internet!  Ask the doctors!

Right now, I don’t know.  The books and the internet tell me it could be that his teeth are coming into the wrong spot, or it could be that they’re coming in out of order (more likely).  The doctor looked at him for about 15 seconds, said she thought they were coming into the wrong spot and shrugged (lots of help, thanks).

So, I’m going to keep worrying.  What does this MEAN!  What is going to happen?  Where is my crystal ball when I need it?!?

I get the impression that this doesn’t ever end.  There’s always something to worry about.  And even though I know the energy spent worrying is wasted (it’s not like I could do anything about how his teeth are growing in) I can’ t help myself.  I’m a mom.