“If your teeth fall out due to negligence, I am not buying you new teeth.” I said this. I actually said this. I was standing to the side of the bathroom sink, while my son, standing on his tiptoes, rinsed the toothpaste out of his mouth. He had not spent what I deemed to be enough time brushing his upper incisors. One morning last week, while we were waiting for the school bus in the bright natural light, I noticed yellow stuff on them when he smiled at me. It could’ve been Cheerios, but still. I didn’t want to take any chances. My son is seven. I’m not sure he knows what negligence means. Also, he may not have been aware that you can, in fact, purchase new teeth. So my warning may have backfired.
He might now just think that he can scrimp on the brushing because there are new teeth for sale somewhere in Target. “I brushed a long time!” he said. I nod. Sure. A long time. Next time, I’m setting the timer. “I want to see that brush touch every tooth tonight.” I sent him downstairs to finish getting ready. Adults get funny about teeth. When you’re a kid, teeth aren’t a big deal as far as caring for them. You grow them, and folks make a fuss. “Terrence got his first tooth!” “Look how hard Emily can bite Mommy’s finger now!” It seems like growing teeth is as easy as planting pumpkin seeds and watching them come up. Then, around five or six, your teeth start falling out and everyone makes a fuss again. “Randall lost his first tooth!” You get paid for the tooth that falls out. There’s even a special fairy dedicated to collecting these tiny lost gross things. Teeth, it seems, are magical, easy to grow, and it’s no big deal if you lose one. Unless you’re an adult. And you split a tooth in half chewing a Tums. Or the dental hygienist mentions how interesting it is that your back teeth are so much yellower than your front. Not that either of these things have happened to any adult I know. (I blame whitening toothpaste and lack of mindfulness. Someone needs to invent a mindful brushing guided meditation.)
But teeth are important and we should fixate on them. There are studies tying oral hygiene and gum disease to heart health, for goodness’ sake. Gum germs can allow harmful bacteria into other parts of the body, causing pain and infection. Also, bad breath. It alienates friends and potential life partners. Still, I never thought I’d be threatening my son with not buying him dentures. That night, I set my iPhone timer as I made him brush each tooth, one at a time, with his fancy-schmancy electric toothbrush. He sighed and shimmied from foot to foot, but didn’t go as far as roll his eyes at me. But I could tell he didn’t get it. Teeth are like everything else when you’re a kid. Stuff just seems to take care of itself, when really, there’s some adult obsessing behind the scenes about fluoride, floss, and your whole darn future. Which, of course, unquestionably, depends totally on your teeth.