The transformation of a child’s mouth from a set of sweet little baby teeth to those large awkward adult teeth (that will need a mountain of cash to straighten) is a long and winding road. It starts when those sleepless nights and drooly cranky days turn out a little pumpkin mouth, those sweet baby smiles with little wee teeth poking through. Soon these little ones are able to chew steak and bite apples and all the good stuff in between.
Then one day they declare with great excitement, “My tooth is wiggly!!” (even though it may not be wiggly yet). They are usually around the age of 6 and the look of anticipation and excitement on their face is priceless. They will soon have those grubby fingers in their mouth at every opportunity, practically willing that tooth to come out. Rumours have it that a certain fairy will bring money for a tooth! So they tirelessly wiggle and wiggle and wiggle. They will show you every 5 minutes how loose that tooth is. This is not fun stage for those of us with a low heeby-jeeby threshold especially when that tooth looks like it is hanging on by sheer will.
My mother on the other hand was probably a dentist or tooth-fairy in another life. The wiggly tooth is like a magnet to her. She simply must wiggle any loose tooth within a 5 mile radius. My kids are thrilled to visit “Noni” when they have a loose tooth. They ask to make the trip to Barrie just to have Noni work on their tooth. When they visit, all of her attention is on them. She gets them to lie down and relax. I remember this as a child, laying on the couch for what seemed like hours while she worked her magic on those resistant teeth. She gets a good grip and gently (but persistently) wiggles this way and that, back and forth, side to side, a little twist here and there, stopping when there are cries of pain and then gets back at it until the child has had enough or the tooth has come out.
A couple of months ago we paid a visit to my mother because of a very wiggly tooth that wasn't coming out. My mother had K lie down and she worked on her tooth for about 45 minutes (my patient girl!). There were moans of discomfort and a little blood. After a short break, they were back at it, my mother coaxing out the tooth with a little “c’mon toothie, come to Noni, c’mon toothie toothie tooth” and there it was: a little white pearl in my mother’s hand and an expression of sheer joy on my daughter’s face.
When the commotion died down, I asked my mother what it is about wiggly teeth that fascinates her. She told me that it isn’t the tooth but the child. It is a small window in their life (usually only lasting for the first tooth or two) when they can see something tangible about growing up. In an instant, they are that much closer to being “all growed up”. Their excitement is contagious.
If we are lucky, our toothless wonders are still naive enough to believe in a little invisible fairy that takes that baby tooth to a new baby and leaves some shiny coins in its place. That is a treat to witness in itself (like the magic of Santa on Christmas morning). The squeals of delight in the early morning are worth being awoken for.
(God forbid that you forget to work your magic! I’ve awoken at 5am in a panic realizing that I had gone to bed without playing my tooth fairy role. I dread the day that someone wakes up and still has their tooth under their pillow. There will certainly be some explaining to do!)
My son has lost 8 teeth and the girls have now lost 5 teeth between the two of them. This tooth fairy business can get pricey! I caution you not to start asking other parents on the playground how much the tooth fairy leaves. They are some (annoying) tooth fairies that think nothing of a $20 bill for a tooth. And trust me, these kids talk. In our house, it’s $5 for the first tooth, $2 for subsequent teeth unless you lose two in a day like my son did ($5 for both) or have them pulled by a dental professional (a premium for pain and suffering at $3 a tooth).
When those awkward adult teeth start popping up, your child’s face changes completely. I keep reminding myself that they will grow into their teeth but it does take some getting used to. At least when the adult teeth come in, they can start eating regular food again (try to pack a lunch for a kid missing four top teeth).
Here’s my question to all of you tooth fairies out there: Do you keep your kids’ baby teeth? I simply can’t bear to throw them out. I have a growing collection of teeth in three labelled ziploc bags in a special wooden box. It sounds (and looks) incredibly creepy or sentimental, depending on your point of view. I recall a story of a grown woman who was going through the home of her recently deceased father. In his top dresser drawer, she found a carefully stored box of all of her baby teeth. She recounts how deeply moved she was that he had kept them all of those years. She had never known that he had played tooth fairy in their house. Hopefully my kids will feel the same way when they come across my collection of their childhood choppers.
Image © Treva Thompson 2011