Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A dental case

Well, I suppose this was inevitable. On Monday my "friends" at Columbus Circle Dental made a startling discovery: one of my far back molars has - gasp! - a cavity. Now, for most people this is no big deal; cavities are as commonplace as snow in the winter or glue sniffers in Congress. But for me, this is huge. In my nearly 32 years, I have never had a filling. Now I am scheduled to have my first just days before my next birthday.

I didn't see this coming. My enamel was rock-solid, or so I thought, and in the week prior to the appointment, I started flossing again, brushed more rigorously, and stopped putting chocolate syrup on my salads. This was supposed to be a fail-safe routine, one that had worked so many times before. It seemed to work for most of Monday's appointment, too. The dental hygienist did not notice anything wrong, and by the time the dentist checked my teeth I was already thinking of what kind of snack I'd have to toast another clean bill of health, imagining chocolate or butterscotch morsels dropping onto a big bowl of Edy's Caramel Delight. Suddenly the dentist jerked my head forward while pulling on a tooth with a tool commonly seen as a torture device in most James Bond movies. He asked if I felt that, and I told him "yes." He then pulled out a mini-camera, shoved it into my mouth, and on a monitor way too close to my face, I saw my tooth, magnified four hundred billion times. It smiled at me.

"There it is," the dentist said. "Tooth decay." I heard a clasp of thunder outside and a black crow cawing. Oh no, not tooth decay! I pumped my fists into the air, looked up at the ceiling and gave a bellowing yelp (that was the best I could do with the saliva sucker and mini-camera still in my mouth). The dentist suggested that I was overreacting just a tad, and that the decay wasn't that severe and could be filled within 15 to 20 minutes. So I went ahead and made an appointment, and then tried to get a new toothbrush. They were out, or at least that's what they said. I'm guessing they just want me to stop brushing so that I would need more fillings, or, better yet, an expensive root canal. In this economy, they could use all the money they can get. I hear that next week they plan to start handing out candy bars.

We've been working hard to make sure Kyle does not share my fate. It took me three decades to get my first cavity, and, like any father who lovingly demands his son to be an overachiever, I expect Kyle to remain filling-free for at least fifty years.

Actually, to be honest, I'll just be happy if he keeps all his teeth by then. According to some parenting reports, we were a little late to the teeth-brushing game, and my dentist says we probably should have brought him in for a checkup a few months ago (I thought he didn't need to go in until he was three years old). In the meantime, Kyle has been feasting on cookies, waffles, and doughnuts while avoiding vegetables as if they're poison. He's our child, for sure.

So far we have had mixed-to-poor results with our brushing exercises. Sometimes he seems to enjoy it, but most of the time he flings the brush to the floor, where it lands on a pile of all the food he rejected. Often it's easier to get him to chew on the toothpaste tube than the toothbrush. If those things had bristles, we'd be all set.

I think he resists because he like the show he gets when it happens. Often I pull out my own toothbrush in front of him and make growling noises as I vigorously clean my teeth, much like I do each night before going to bed. Sometimes I let him grab the handle of my brush as I grab the handle of his. He's actually becoming better at brushing my teeth than his own. The whole exercise is exhausting, though, and afterwards I need a big dose of dark chocolate and soda to wake me up. Meanwhile, Jennifer has developed a Grammy-worthy song called "Brush, Brush, Brush Your Teeth," which sounds a lot like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Kyle smiles as she sings, and he allows her to put the brush in his mouth and move it slightly. By the time they're done, Jennifer will have sung this song about twenty times, moving her ever so closely to the brink of insanity.

Yes, it is a lot of work to make our son brush, but believe me it's all worth it because now we know that his dozen teeth are, finally, somewhat clean. I am sure the people at the dentist's office will approve, whenever we get around to bringing him there. Then again, they'll probably just tell us he's not flossing enough and then will charge us for that advice.

There is one nice thing about these brushing exercises: unlike other parts of Kyle's upbringing, these leave room for failure. If we screw up, we will get a second chance when his adult teeth come in. And that gives us some hope that he, too, can go the distance without a cavity.

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