My daughter has a loose tooth. It amuses and revolts both her and me at the same time. As I watch her grappling with the wiggly tooth, I can’t help but think of the teeth I’ve cut along the way (literally and metaphorically).
As a girl, I knew that if I didn’t brush my teeth and ate too much sugar, I would get cavities and my teeth would fall out. I didn’t know about loose teeth until I got one. It seemed so random.
After all, my teeth were just that and I hadn’t thought much about them. I was quite attached to them (and them to me — or so I thought). As far as I knew and believed, I would have my teeth forever. That is, until the day that a tooth was suddenly loose.
Now I couldn’t think of anything except my teeth. The looseness of my tooth became omnipresent in my mind as well as in my mouth, especially for my tongue. I had an oral fixation.
I asked around, and the silver lining folks told me that my current tooth, one that I was quite attached to, was making room for the real deal — a big, strong, adult tooth — one that I would hopefully have until the day I died, as long as I took care of it and myself. I knew that no matter how much I wanted that loose tooth to stop wiggling, it wouldn’t.
I tried to chew on the other side of my mouth; I brushed my loose tooth more than before. Perhaps if I just coddled it more it would be OK and I would wake up the next day with a stationary tooth again. Every morning I woke and it was still loose; in fact, it was coming unhinged.
As I worked through the stages of acceptance, past denial, I was then mad that apples would be out of my life for a while, as would bagels, really chewy steak, etc. Who could I blame for my loose tooth?
There are always outside forces at play that generate looseness, forces beyond our control. Some are really external, such as a hockey puck to the mouth. We would have been the ones, however, who chose to play hockey, so the fault still lies with us, at least to some extent.
Other forces are internal, but beyond our knowing, like that innocent adult tooth pushing out the baby tooth.
I figured if I really needed a culprit, I suppose I could blame DNA. After all, my mother’s baby teeth fell out and she grew a new set of permanent adult teeth. (Thanks to parents we almost always have someone to blame, even if we should be blaming ourselves).
I passed through anger — anger at my mother for her loose teeth, anger over the change that would occur in my life, how things would look different and feel different.
Sadness followed. Indeed, life would not be the same. My tooth was so loose now that it was literally hanging by a thread. I debated whether I should pull it out or let someone else pull it out — both which would cause it to bleed and give me a jolt of pain — or if I should wait it out until it fell out on its own.
Waiting was never my forte, so the tooth was pulled out. There was blood, there was pain, the tears fell, and the tears dried.
My tongue kept finding the tooth hole. It was spongy and disfigured, but there was something there; in the hole was the edge of a new tooth that was so sharp it almost cut my tongue. I realized that I really should keep my tongue out of that hole for a while so that the skin could heal over. The new tooth would emerge when it was ready. Yet I kept finding my tongue in that hole.
I had to learn to be patient, to wait for the permanent tooth to fully work its way into my mouth and life. I would be happier for it. I would be able to chew better and look more adult in the mirror, more like the “me” I saw in my mind.
The tooth did come in fully and it was a magnificent tooth.
I decided then that I would be extra careful with this tooth. I would brush it twice daily, floss around it regularly, and admire it in every smile. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing this tooth. I was sure that once it was gone, nothing could replace it properly. Indeed nothing would replace it — ever.
We have all cut our teeth in work and personal relationships with varying levels of success. Regardless, my daughter’s loose tooth and imminent new tooth remind me that we all get second chances.