It seems to be boy maintenance week. We had Haircut Monday, and today was Staving Off Tooth Decay Thursday. Jackson’s dentist always admires how calm he is in the exam chair. I take credit, I’ve been pinning him down and goading a toothbrush around his mouth every night since he turned two. He’s been flossed into submission. And terrorized by Beastmaster Eden’s Tales from the Dental Crypt.
Like many raised in the land of subsidized high-fructose corn syrup, my childhood was full of needles and drills and Sno-Balls from the 7-11. A normal snack in my family was a bowl of buttercream frosting spread over Saltines. Like a peasant from the Dark Ages who didn’t understand the connection between sex and pregnancy, I lacked the vital mental connection between my romance with Bazooka Joe and having three new cavities at the every check-up. For a long time after I moved away from home, even after I was a grownup going to work and paying bills in a city far, far away, I’d still wait until I went home to visit my parents so I could go to my old childhood dentist and let him pack my teeth with “silver” fillings. When he retired, I was so seized up by the idea of finding a new dentist — someone my parents hadn’t carefully chosen and weren’t paying for, oh my god — that I simply stopped going to the dentist for like ten years.
So, yay, suddenly I woke up and I was 29 years old and about to have enough root canals to buy my dentist a Porsche.
I vowed that Jackson would be spared this preventable brand of misery.
This morning I watched him climb into a booster dental chair and start chatting with the doctor. He sat back and crossed his legs in a jaunty fashion, at the ankles, tapping his Merrils. So relaxed, casually asking the dentist what all those cute little tools are for, without a tooth-related care in the world. The threat of gum disease is still a decade away; braces are just a glimmer in our insurance agent’s eye; and I’ll be brushing his teeth until he’s thirty.
X-ray images of Jackson’s teeth popped up on the computer moniter in front of us, soon to be replaced by a calming screen saver showing a loop of a fish tank containing all the species depicted in “Finding Nemo.” The dentist wore grape-flavored gloves and cleaned Jackson’s teeth with fruit punch-flavored polish, then filled two mouth trays with raspberry-flavored fluoride gel, which Jackson was instructed to keep in his mouth, without swallowing, for sixty seconds. At fifteen seconds his eyes were watering; at thirty, he was actively gagging; and at forty-five he threw up.
“I feel much better now,” he said brightly, unpinning his bib and sidling toward the doctor’s treasure chest (a cardboard box from which he chose a set of green plastic vampire fangs).
Then came the fun part!
Thirty minutes later we were back at home and Jackson was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and, as a treat, drinking part of a can of caffeine-free diet Coke. Then he came up to me and said, “My stomach feels really weird.”
I immediately Googled “fluoride poisoning.” (Believe me, in my world, upset stomachs can lead to irreversible death.)
“Drink this milk,” I said, pouring him a glass, as instructed by Wikipedia. “It will slow the absorption of any fluoride you might have swallowed and help your stomach feel better.”
Ten minutes later I asked him how he was feeling. He let out a gigantic, disgusting wet burp.
I smelled mint. “Bleah, holy cow, did somebody give you a Mentos or something?” He’d been in the other room with some neighbor girls updating their Webkinz wishlists.
He pulled a wad of gum out of his mouth and showed it to me. “What’s a Mentos?”
It’s a wiser parent than I who can diagnose a belly swollen with carbon dioxide.