Pulling Teeth

Photo: Bianca de Blok

“Is the dentist pulling my tooth out today?”  My son’s hand flew to his mouth.  We were leaving the schoolyard.

“I think so. But don’t worry. It’s just a little tooth,” I muttered.

Last visit, the dentist took me aside. He said my seven-year-old’s bottom teeth were crowded.  The procedure would help Sam’s dental future.

I left feeling faint — queasy even — until I spun my horror into resolve. I, Loyal Mother, would defend my son and his sweet tooth from the barbaric acts of dentists.  I would hand-letter the placards. (“Save the baby teeth!”) Stage a march. Appeal to our local MP. Besides, hadn’t outlandish acts like tooth pulling gone the way of tonsil cutting and routine circumcision? And bloodletting?

But over the next weeks I peered into other people’s mouths and I noticed crowded, awkward spaces that might never know the gentle stroking of dental floss.  Experienced mothers reassured me about the survival rates for children with pulled teeth.

And so my indignation drifted away and vague interests in future orthodontic work filled its place. I set Sam’s appointment.

I led Sam (his brow knitted in misery) to the car that afternoon. Full strength anxiety was taking hold when I clamped his seatbelt in place.  Immunization shots, vegetables, and of course dental visits were all for the best — “I’m not going!”  He flung off the seatbelt.

I tried wooing him with a reminder of his upcoming selection from the dentist’s Treasure Box.  Even so, his eyes reddened; tears began leaking out.  I upped the reward.  The tooth fairy’s contract was increased to ten dollars, for teeth removed through unnatural forces. 

Sam agreed, sullenly, to go.

My son, former poster boy for the term “bouncing off the walls” sat silently in the waiting room. 

“I know this is scary,” I admitted.  “But it’ll be over in a minute.”

The dentist appeared and my son, zombie-like, rose from his chair and followed him.

“You’re doing great,” the receptionist whispered to me.  “I’ve actually seen parents ridicule their kids for being nervous.  And others look more terrified than the kids.”  I groaned with her and threw back my shoulders in my best confident pose.

I sat hunched on a stool next to Sam.  The dentist  looked into my son’s eyes and said– firmly, but with a trace of apology, that he had to pull out his tooth.  I was so hoping he’d use the word “extraction”–that the excess syllables might either confound my son or convince him the dentist had reconsidered. But the message was clear. 

“I’ll be your Fan Club!” I told Sam, squeezing his ankle.

First the gel. The dentist flashed his spindle of needle and began the first injection of magic puffy mouth serum into Sam’s gums. 

“Hardly even felt that, did you? Just like a little mosquito bite,” offered the dentist. 

Sam shrugged obediently. He looked vulnerable. Trusting.  Did I want him to stand tall  atop the dental chair and karate chop the enemy? No. I was past that.

“Just little bit more.” The dentist brandished the needle again.  I pushed aside an errant fantasy in which Sam sprang forward, sword in hand. His mighty spear arced back the sliver of needle–

“This kind of thing is just as hard on the parent,” said the dentist. 

“I’m fine,” I insisted. I released my grip on Sam’s leg and stroked it gently.

The pliers came next — a medieval torture device really, disguised in brushed stainless steel.

The dentist held them over my son’s open mouth —

Then, the muffled screech, the whimper of pain —

Sam pulled himself forward.  The dentist looked up.

“You okay?” Sam asked me.

“Just a cramp,” I squeaked.

Sam leaned back.  And less than a moment later, the dentist held up a white tooth pinched in his pliers. The tooth glistened. Such a tiny pebble he held.

My son had survived. No dentists or innocent citizens were slain.  The bloodshed was minimal.  My heart swelled.

“You were great, Sam!” said the dentist. He looked at me, then away again. “Ready to pick out a prize from the Treasure Box?” He of course was offering Sam specifically.   But that moment I could have scooped up the plastic trinkets, tossed them into the air, and let the booty shower down on us all.  It was over. All over.

It was just a tooth after all.  Just a little milk tooth.