“That’s just so many teeth,” I said to the confused mother of five seated across from me at lunch.
It was a weird follow up to the pretty standard suburban question: “how many kids do you have?” Depending on your point of view, there are plenty of more appropriate reactions, including “how wonderful” and “so you have to make dinner for seven people every single night?” Those thoughts also ran in the back of my mind, along with questions about what kind of a car she drives and if she knows about college tuition. But mostly, I wondered about the teeth.
When a child is getting his first tooth, the world stops spinning on its axis. I imagine it’s the sound of that bloodcurdling scream that throws off the gravitational pull. Those teeth seem to do their best sprouting at around 3am and take a few days to settle in. Do that twenty times with one child and you’ve lost a lot of sleep. Now multiply that by five.
Once you’ve white knuckled it through the getting of teeth, you have to take care of them. Toothpaste is an acquired taste, as is having a stick shoved in your mouth, so negotiating the brushing of a toddler’s hard won teeth requires strategy. Every night for several years, I would have to distract one of my children by telling him a story about my day while I brushed his teeth. The stories of my regular day were not interesting enough, so I’d make up the tale of the dog I met who spoke Spanish or the man who appeared out of the sidewalk drain to give me flowers. Coming up with this stuff took a lot of time.
It’s a good thing I took such good care of those teeth because with very little ceremony, they all fell out. All twenty of them, purchased by some weirdo who likes to build castles in the air using children’s teeth as construction material. But the money’s pretty good, so we do her bidding. For each of those lost teeth I snuck back into the child’s room, risking undoing the bedtime ritual by waking him up. I shoved a couple of bucks under his pillow, a couple of bucks that will probably be spent on candy.
Speaking of candy, for every one child you have, you have to go to the dentist twice a year. Occasionally I’ve gotten lucky and have gotten all three of my kids simultaneous appointments, but I guarantee no office has five dental chairs in a row. These appointments are hard to get and unbelievably pricey, as my insurance doesn’t cover services like X-box and a full size Ironman in the waiting room. There’s the cleaning and the occasional cavity, plus the all-important sealants that keep the molars cavitiy-free, which cost $70 each and make you wonder why you ever started the teeth brushing in the first place.
And in the United States in 2018, every child needs braces. I’ve had three children with perfectly normal looking teeth diagnosed with Severe Teeth in the Wrong Place Disorder. We’ve had three sets of braces. The first month of a child’s having braces sort of takes you back to the teething stage. The child is in agony with the added bonus of metal slicing the inside of his mouth and a new avenue for social stigma. A full set of braces entitles you to a monthly appointment, several of which you’ll forget, where the pain is restored back to Day 1.
After the braces, there’s the retainer. It costs like $700 and it will get lost. At least once. So I raise my dental floss to you, mother of five. I just don’t know how you do it.