I know I never had my teeth brushed in the highchair. But Malcolm, my grandson does - every day after breakfast and dinner, just as his big sister did.
And I'm also sure that I didn't start brushing my children's teeth at age one either. Somehow both my kids' choppers survived my inadequate parenting. With reasonable dental genes, fluoride and attentive professionals, they both wound up in the Happy Smile Club and it looks like Malcolm and Keira will follow them. It amazes me how young children will accept the inevitable when it's made apparent they aren't leaving the highchair until the pearly whites are scrubbed. Tough love, it seems, is good for the teeth.
My early dental experience was tough too, but love had nothing to do with it. Dr. Leary, my first dentist, was a roly-poly, happy Irishman who could easily have been nicknamed Dr. Pain. Maybe he thought being jolly would help his terrified little patients forget the impending agony, but I never entered his office without breaking into a sweat. No amount of kiddie magazines could calm the terrors of his waiting room. I tried the "bad stomach ache, too sick to go" routine, but my mother wasn't buying it. Predictably, every trip to Doc Leary's inner sanctum turned my mouth into a major construction site complete with excavating, drilling and cement work. I imagine my death grip on the chair and my rigid clenched jaw didn't help matters much. Fortunately he retired when I was in fifth grade.
Dr. Brickell, my next dentist took care of me until college, and he spoiled me. In addition to his practice, he taught medical hypnosis to dental students in Boston and I was part of a control group in his research program. When he put me into the hypnotic state, all my concerns were gone, and even salivary flow was controlled. I never felt pain in the dental chair again. I won't say that I'm easily hypnotized, but don't talk about sleep around me in a deep, soothing voice unless you have a pillow handy.
After college and out on my own, I didn't pay much attention to acquiring a regular dentist. I moved a lot in my twenties so I went only when my wisdom teeth erupted or tooth pain required a filling. My mother had lost her teeth in her twenties and my best friend had full-mouth caps by the same age. I was determined that wasn't going to happen to me so I was at least a conscientious brusher and rinser. I must, however, confess that dedicated daily flossing never made it to the top of my to-do list.
I didn't realize the damage done by my lackadaisical attitude toward checkups until we settled into our first house. The nice young dentist in that Connecticut town took a quick tour through my mouth and asked, "Been doing your own work?" That comment got my attention. The marvels and methods of modern dentistry have kept me on the straight path ever since.
In recent years I've been captivated by the whitening process. Looking around at the over-the-hill gang in our little city, teeth are a real age definer. I've seen every shade of beige, taupe and tan teeth in the blue-hair set along with every shade of yellow from banana to pale pumpkin. Since I go into the world each day with silver hair and a leaden body I decided that I could at least improve the color of my smile. So I've worn the gel whitening strips, I brush with the vivid whiteners and rinse with whitening mouthwash. (Actually I bought the mouthwash for quite a while until I read that I could make my own with hydrogen peroxide and a tablespoon of Scope. This little frugality has saved me mucho dinero.)
For a few years my dental hygienist proclaimed my teeth "Nice and white . . . and you are doing a very good job." I thought she was going to give me a gold star along with my new toothbrush. I was so proud. But during my last checkup, she was not as enthusiastic.
"How am I doing?" I asked. "Still white?"
"Pretty good, but when did you start drinking tea every day?" What? How does she know the doc took me off of coffee? How can she tell I'm drinking tea for breakfast? Either she's peeking in my kitchen window or she's verrry good at her job. I guess I knew about tea's staining power from dying fabrics - it makes them look antique. But teeth? Porcelain? Yikes. And here I was trying so hard not to look like an antique.Wait a minute. Aha! Maybe that's why so many Brits have such dull, drab teeth. It's all that tea. Maybe they named Earl Grey tea after the color it turns your ivories rather than after the old Earl himself. Hmm. Time to change my brand, although I'm going to feel like a traitor. Malcolm and Keira are related on their dad's side (way, way back) to the ninth Earl of Grey. Maybe they should keep on brushing in the high chair . . . but stick with hot chocolate. The tooth fairy has been showing up routinely at their house recently and I'll bet she pays a premium for the extra-white collectibles..Let me see, hot chocolate, cash visits from the tooth fairy, and a future of painless dentistry. The kids today have it made. Who needs a better reason to smile?
Marcy O'Brien writes from her home in Glade Township where she's been spending a lot of time recently cutting out toothpaste coupons. She can be reached at Moby.firstname.lastname@example.org.