The tooth had been dangling for more than two months, since before Thanksgiving. A new tooth had already grown in behind it. Back in December when I took m to the dentist for her semi-annual cleaning I asked if we should take the tooth out because I worried that the new tooth had no place to go. He said to let it come out naturally.
So we waited. And waited. Soon, m’s jaw looked like a shark’s with double rows of teeth. I suggested a few times that I could get the tooth out quickly and easily using some dental floss and a door, but she was resistant to yanking the teeth out. Finally, a few days ago after school, m was in the kitchen eating a snack when I heard her begin to wail. She ran to find me in my office, her mouth open. She flapped her arms like a bird desperately trying to fly away from her own fear.
“Itsh loosh,” she whined as saliva pooled inside her lower lip beneath the tooth that was now hanging on by the barest of threads.
“Great!” I said, trying to calm her down. “Let’s get it out and then you can get some money from the tooth fairy!”
Little m has never been calm about a lost tooth. She worries that it will hurt when it comes out. She worries about the blood that will pour out of her mouth. She frets and fidgets and cries out of fear, though it is not a fear of an unknown.
Reminders of past teeth would not stymie her tears. She didn’t want to do anything to get the tooth out herself, but there was a pressing issue. That night she had swim practice, and we both worried that if we didn’t get the tooth out before hand it might come out in the pool and would get lost in the water. “Then you wouldn’t be able to leave it for the tooth fairy,” I said.
So she worked at it. Mouth still open she gently pushed the tooth forward and then tried grabbing it and pulling it out. But she was nervous, her fingers were sweaty, her mouth was filled with spit, and the tooth itself was slippery. She couldn’t get a grip on it to pull it out. She used a tissue to soak up some of the saliva, and then tried to grip the tooth with the tissue but her tugs were so gentle that the tooth wouldn’t come out.
I offered to do the job for her, but she wanted to do it herself. She went from the bathroom mirror to the hallway mirror, staring at her open mouth, refusing to close her mouth, soaking up the saliva with tissue, pushing the tooth back and forth but not with enough force to do more than wiggle it. Finally, after half and hour, she came to me and asked me to get it out.
“Ish going to hurt,” she said, her mouth still open, saliva pooling at her lower lip.
I promised I would be gentle. I sat on the couch and she stood before me. I took a tissue in my hand and placed it over the tooth and pushed the tooth forward. It popped out almost immediately. “I’m only wiggling it,” I told her. “I don’t think it’s come out yet.”
Her eyes were full of fear of the mythical searing pain that would come when the tooth was out. But the tooth was already out and resting in the tissue which was now soaking up the small amount of blood. I let this ruse go on for another half a minute or so before I finally said, “Aha! I have it.”
Her eyes went from fear to relief and then joy, and when I took the tooth away she actually began to smile. She kept her mouth open still, though, and now instead of just saliva it was blood, too, pooling at her lower lip. I snapped a photo of my beaming little girl, thrilled that she had overcome her own fear and allowed me to take out her tooth. Sure, I didn’t get to use the dental floss-doorknob trick, but I’m hoping that next time she might give me the chance.