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Let Me See You Smile

Close-up photo of a girl's nose and smile
Photo by Giuliamar on Pixabay

When your children are between six months and six years old, there’s a lot of talk about teeth. Teeth are the boogeymen of the first year, blamed for every fussy day. When the first teeth finally appear, they are much celebrated and photographed.

Then, there are the two-year-old molars, much despised for the additional drama they add to what many already find to be a challenging season. After a few short years of peace begins the long process of losing and replacing those teeth we all endured so much for.

What I didn’t know when my boys were young was that we were going to come full circle with teeth. With three teenagers in the house, teeth have again become a topic of conversation as well as consternation. I am, of course, referring to wisdom teeth and orthodontia. (Apparently, I’ve also reached some tooth milestone, having recently gotten my first crown.)

In some ways, these ordeals about teeth have felt strangely familiar. In others, it’s been very different. As we enter this old-new territory of teeth, I simultaneously think, here we go again and also, what fresh hell is this?

More of the same

Over the summer, my 18 year old had his wisdom teeth removed, something of a rite of passage in the early young adult years. As in the younger years, teeth caused tears.

He came home from his wisdom teeth surgery with the usual loopy experience, only instead of being funny, he was pitiful. He cried a lot. (As did I when my own were removed, so he comes by it honestly.)

The tears, I can attest, have nothing to do with pain. It’s merely a reaction to either anesthesia or Novocain. When he was young and needed to have a baby tooth pulled (for the beginning of his own orthodontia journey), although they didn’t put him under, he cried and cried on the way home, even as he acknowledged that he didn’t know why.

Once the medicine wore off, the tears ceased, and after spending a couple of days on the couch taking as little pain medication as possible (that’s just the way he is), he was back in action. We can hope that he has entered a long peaceful season without teeth issues.

The 13 and 14 year olds’ journeys, however, are just beginning. The 14 year old has what we affectionately call a “hump tooth” (a canine that’s growing through his gums above the tooth line) as well a cross-bite, and the 13 year old has an underbite, which is wreaking all sorts of havoc.

Before it the orthodontia treatment could begin, my 13 year old needed to have an adult tooth extracted since he has multiple teeth that can’t come down, thanks to how narrow the underbite has made his upper jaw.

I took him to the same oral surgeon who removed the wisdom teeth. My youngest’s response to the anesthesia was the opposite of my oldest’s. When his surgery was done, I walked back into the room and asked him, “How are you?” perhaps expecting something on the unpleasant end of the spectrum.

Instead, he said, “I’m on top of the world.”

He proceeded to talk and talk, through his mouth was full of cotton. He didn’t care. He had things to say. He was high.

Once his mouth was healed, we began the slow start of orthodontia: an appointment to get an impression made and bands put on, then a month later, the expander put in, and another month later, only the top braces.

For reasons I can’t explain, they only put brackets on my middle son, without the wire. I went in to see my youngest finish up, assuming they would do the same. But no, they had not only put in the wire, they also put a gob of blue “glue” on a back molar, which keeps him from biting down fully, in order to fix his underbite.

He was sort of miserable. “I have a broken leg, a cold, and now this.” Fair enough. It had been a tough two weeks for the boy. Now he had to try to eat food even though this blue glob would keep him from being able to bite his teeth down onto each other.

When the brackets (predictably) quickly fell off my middle son’s teeth, we set up yet another appointment for him to go in and get a wire put on. (Again, it’s not clear to me why this wasn’t done the first time?)

For twenty-four hours, I was back to dosing my children with ibuprofen due to mouth pain, just like when they were infants and toddlers.

And just like when they were little, I returned to scrutinizing all of the food in the house. When they were young, we worried about choking hazards until they had enough teeth to properly chew. Cheerios for the save! Now, I’m worried about breaking off a brace and having to make another appointment for the orthodontist. Right before they got their braces on, I’d just bought a bunch of crunchy granola bars and the hardest cereal you’ll ever eat. Cheerios to the rescue once again!

One more thing that’s similar from before is that the tooth ordeals make it more difficult to understand what my children are saying. Remember when those lost front teeth caused lisps? With the expanders hanging down from the middle of their upper palette, my boys’ enunciation has gone soft—not a great addition to the already-mumbly season of adolescence.

What’s different

The major difference is this time the teeth are a lot more expensive. Getting a new tooth cost nothing but some lost sleep and a few bucks in Children’s Motrin. Losing a tooth cost whatever the going Tooth Fairy Rate was. Now we’re looking at $7,000 in orthodontia and perhaps a few hundred in surgery co-pays.

It’s also a lot less convenient. This time around we need to make monthly appointments for the next two years. Another after-school “activity” to keep track of during an already busy season.

But it’s all going to be worth it, right? Full sets of teeth (minus one for the youngest) that actually fit and will therefore hopefully stay healthy and minimally inconvenient…until the wisdom teeth must come out. I can’t think about that yet. One tooth at a time.




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