I haven’t read Dante. So can someone please tell me in which circle of hell you must floss another human being’s teeth?
Fitting penance for sins of the mouth flesh. A recent trip to the dentist has revealed three cavities! Our first ones. Ever.
The whole appointment starts badly. Busy office. Dental hygienist stops me at the door when I follow Robin in as I have for all 8 of his visits. “Just Robin. You wait here. We’ll call you.”
Not sure who is more uncomfortable, Robin or me. But there is no conversation.
Robin is a good and obedient patient. I’ve enjoyed our previous trips to the dentist. When told to take a turn with the brush once a day, I say no problem. I help him brush twice each day. On the tutelage of the pediatrician, I’ve done this his whole toothsome life. Robin hands me the toothbrush each time.
As he’s gotten old enough to argue or doddle, I give him choices. Passive aggressive ones. “Up to you. If you want cavities, that’s your choice. I don’t care if you brush.” He always chooses toothbrush.
What does he know of cavities? Only what I’ve told him: They’re bad. They hurt. They are expensive to fill, so if you get too many we won’t be able to afford vacation, kid. So brush up or you’ll never meet Mickey Mouse.
It’s enough. But there’s more. Let’s not forget the diet.
No gummy vitamins! No sticky or chewy candies! Limited sugar. In stores, Robin points to jelly beans and tells me they are bad for your teeth. On Halloween he hands over his Tootsie Rolls and Laffy Taffy before I even ask.
Our efforts have been affirmed on all previous dental visits. I chat up a friendly hygienist who inevitably comments on how great his teeth look. When the dentist tells me what a great job we’re doing, we high five. “Team work!”
So this time I am completely unprepared for the news.
After an eternal wait, I’m summoned by a grimacing hygienist. Robin is upright in the yellow pleather recliner of the back office, holding plastic prizes but not smiling.
There are x-rays on a lightboard. Apparently, not only is 5 the age when mom has to wait outside. It’s also the age when they take x-rays. I should have been informed.
Three cavities. “They’re small,” says the stern-faced dentist.
“So we don’t have to fill them?”
“You do. These baby teeth are very brittle and will rot quickly.” He shows me two other small spots that may be turning into cavities. He’ll watch those for next time.
(I am not a bad mother. I am not a bad mother. I am not a bad mother.)
All this in a mouth where teeth only touch in 6 places. A mouth that drinks juice once a week. That doesn’t know the cloying sweetness of Jelly Bellies, nor the jaw joy of chewing gum. That has never experienced the vivid flavors of a Jolly Rancher, nor the sweet fizz of soda. What gives?
“Floss,” the hygienist says quietly. “Be sure to floss. Just in the back. Those molars that touch. That’s where the problem is.”
Oh yeah. Floss. I forgot. So many details. And a silent reminder to check my smugness.
In the meantime I’ve lost some leverage with the threat of cavities. Been there. Done that. The truth is, they don’t hurt and won’t hurt to fill. Our plane tickets are already bought for summer.
The next day he bounds into his classroom on the heels of a spring break that included a visit from Granny and many movies, museums, restaurant lunches, and treats. What’s the first thing he excitedly tells teacher? “I have three cavities!”
A proud moment. A rite of passage for us both. Our fate is bound in dental floss.