Tooth and Consequences

Four years ago, I experienced a #MotherFail moment. I am certain it wasn’t my first and I am sorry to say, it hasn’t been my last, but it has been a moment that has stayed with me all these years. It was getting late and past 4 year-old Diego’s bedtime. He was tired, and whiny and I was tired and whiny too, albeit we were tired and whiny in different ways. I had been cleaning and cooking all day to prepare for a party the next day. In an effort to soothe Diego’s whining, (or keep him quiet) I told him to watch TV on the family room couch until he fell asleep. I went back to doing whatever I was doing until about one hour later I heard a thump, a scream, and the sound of crying. The kind of crying that starts with a wail and then stops with a breathless silence, followed by a gasp and then hysterical sobbing.

I looked up to see Diego with blood pouring from his mouth. It was a scene right out of “True Blood.” I calmed him down enough to figure out that he was bleeding from a busted lip. I stopped the bleeding and gave him some ice to put on his lip. In another #MotherFail moment I was so preoccupied that I didn’t notice anything unusual about his front tooth. I finished the party preparations and the next day the party went off very nicely, as evidenced by the photos showing people having a good time. Evidence of my mommy neglect can be found in the photos showing Diego looking like a boxer who just went 9 rounds.

Several days later Diego’s right front tooth began to discolor. It turned a nice shade of gray. At his next dental appointment the doctor remarked that the tooth had died but not to worry since it appeared there was no infection and it would fall out on its own. Over the next couple of years Diego began to lose his teeth. I was anxious for him to lose the gray tooth, but that little dead tooth was content to stay there, rooted in his mouth. Taunting me. Reminding me of my own failing. That tooth seemed to taunt me even more when the gum above it developed a bump and caused me enough concern to take him to the dentist. The dentist diagnosed an abscess. He prescribed an antibiotic which cured the infection, prevented an emergency tooth extraction and temporarily eased my guilt.

Finally, when Diego was 7 his left front tooth fell out. At last! Soon he would be free of the right gray front tooth and I would be absolved. All would be forgotten. I waited. We went to the dentist again and the doctor took x-rays. He delivered the bad news. That tooth needed to come out and it needed to come out now. The x-rays showed the adult tooth ready to descend but the dead tooth was standing its ground. We agreed that Diego would try to wiggle that tooth out but if it didn’t come out by Halloween, one month later, the tooth would need to be extracted.

The next few weeks I resolved to get that tooth out. Every day I wiggled that tooth for Diego. Every day, when I asked him if he had a) finished his homework, b) made his bed, I also asked if he c) wiggled his tooth. Everyday he said, yes, I finished my homework, yes I wiggled my tooth, and I forgot to make my bed. At night when I would read with him he talked about his tooth. He became so anxious about the tooth extraction that instead of reading a book with him, I spent the time calming him down. As Halloween grew closer, he became more distressed. “Great”, I thought. He’s going to develop a dental phobia which will plague him the rest of his life. Good job Mom. Succumbing to Mommy Guilt, I told him that we could wait to pull his tooth out until after Christmas. In the meantime, he promised to keep wiggling.

A brief reprieve until New Years. Then his concern started in earnest. With every passing day he grew more anxious and I felt worse. The tooth, for all our efforts did not seem to be any looser. Finally, shortly after the New Year, I decided to be done with it. No more tooth. No more guilt. It’s a New Year. Time to absolve myself. I called a wonderful pediatric dentist nearby and made an appointment for the following day. I explained that Diego was very anxious and that I thought a consultation would help him through his anxiety. I told Juan about the appointment but didn’t tell Diego.

The next morning Diego woke up excited about the upcoming weekend. I told him he would be late to school that morning because we had a dental appointment. He immediately got nervous, but I told him not to worry because the doctor was not going to be able to take out the tooth that morning. That seemed to do the trick. He trusted me.

We arrived at the pediatric dental office, complete with cartoons on the TV, marshmallow and strawberry cheesecake flavored toothpaste and shelves filled with toys. This wasn’t so bad after all. Diego seemed content to sit in the dental chair watching Toy Story while the adults in the room examined his X-Ray. The doctor explained how the tooth needed to come out to allow the adult tooth to descend. He also explained why, despite our wiggling efforts, the tooth would probably never come out on its own. Something to do with ligaments around the tooth fusing to the bone when the tooth was traumatized. I was right, that tooth was taunting me.

We decided not to wait any longer. We were there, the tooth needed to come out and Diego was at ease. He didn’t suspect a thing. After all, he trusted that when I told him that he wouldn’t have the tooth pulled that day, I meant it. I told the dentist about my promise to him and the dentist said he could take the blame. The dentist recommended we not tell Diego what was going to happen until just before we started. Like a lamb to the slaughter, Diego happily climbed back into the dentist chair and didn’t even squirm when the small mask with the laughing gas was placed over his nose. He seemed calm while the doctor told him to breathe in the gas. I stood outside the room, watching Juan’s expression as he sat in the chair next to the dental chair. It wasn’t until the dentist brought out the Novocain and Diego must have seen the needle that he realized what was about to happen. He tried to grab the dentist’s hand but the assistant restrained him. The dentist explained what needed to happen and Diego seemed to relax. I guess he figured it was inevitable, either that or the laughing gas seemed to be working. In what seemed like an eternity, the dentist administered two doses of Novocain and pulled out the tooth.

It was done. Except for the long ride home while Diego sobbed and asked me “Why? ” Why didn’t I tell him? I replied that I really didn’t know it was going to happen until we got there. He said if he had known, he would have bitten the dentist and run out the door. He looked at himself in the rear-view mirror and saw his gap-toothed smile and cried anew. He was so unhappy with the way he looked. He told me that it was worse than the summer haircut he got last year. When we finally got home he calmed down enough to hear me say that the dentist ordered Diego to have only soft foods like ice cream, smoothies, and yogurt. Maybe it was the thought of all that ice cream, or the idea that he had an unexpected day off from school. Whatever it was he finally stopped crying. I began to think that maybe he won’t be scarred for life and have to deal with dental phobia as an adult. Diego’s gray tooth was gone, and with it some of my Mommy Guilt was gone too. Or, at least it will be after the tooth fairy makes good on her delivery.

Diego, after his tooth is out, and he's eaten his fill of ice cream.

Diego, after his tooth is out, and he’s eaten his fill of ice cream.

What kind of #MotherFail moments have you experienced?


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