Archive for April 3rd, 2007

How to Save a Lost Tooth: Take Everything I Did, and Do the Opposite

April 3, 2007 @ 1:42 pm | Filed under:

Lesson #1: When you move to another state, put "find a dentist" near the very top of your list.

Don’t assume you can sit on that job while you’re attending to all the other million-and-one matters pertaining to the aftermath of your move—not even if the kids all had a check-up right before you left your old home.

Sigh. I really was working on getting a dentist. Just ask the moms I was grilling at a homeschool gathering last week. I was on it! So close! Not close enough!

If we’d already been established with a dentist, my poor little Wonderboy’s knocked-out tooth might have been able to be saved. We’d have had someone to call the moment calamity struck, even on a Sunday night—someone with more sense that the three, count them THREE, medical and dental personnel I spoke to on the phone yesterday in the hour following Wonderboy’s tumble.

I know, I know, it’s only a baby tooth. It was going to fall out anyway. But I don’t care. I love baby teeth. Adore them. The first time I read Peter Pan, the real version, not the Disney, I was an adult with three children already, and when I got to the bit about how Peter still had his baby teeth I understood in an instant what his charm was, and why he had such an effect on Wendy even when he acted like a jerk. Baby teeth make my heart melt. Wonderboy’s baby-toothed grin in particular, is (was, oh no) a thing of magic for me. His high muscle tone makes his mouth a little tight, so that he has this funny stretched grin with those perfect, even teeth behind it: oh, so utterly cute. I’m not ready for it to be gone.

Lesson #2: Do not wash the knocked-out tooth.

The dentist we wound up seeing yesterday morning told me this. If it is intact, it is possible to re-insert it. I knew that, but all the people I talked to on the phone said no one bothers doing that for a baby tooth. The dentist, on the other hand, said she would definitely have put it back in. Her own son lost two front teeth as a three-year-old and SHE KNOWS. She says if I’d gotten HER on the phone Sunday night, she would have met me in the office right away. I didn’t know whether to hug her or cry.

Anyway, she told me what to do if it (please no) should ever happen again. If the tooth is intact and not dirty, she says DON’T WASH IT. If it has sand or grit on it, she says to immerse it in milk—yes, milk!—to rinse the tooth off, but DO NOT SCRUB. The tiny root-fibers can be rubbed off as easily as the scales of a butterfly’s week.

This makes me feel a tiny bit better, since of course the first thing we did when we found the tooth (an hour after cleaning up All! That! Blood!) was to wash all the sand off it. So even if we had connected with the dentist, the tooth would have been past saving.

Her advice was to wash out the child’s mouth, carefully get the grit off the tooth, and then just stick it back into the hole. Yup. Then get to a dentist as fast as you can. She said if you’re too squeamish to put the tooth back yourself, put it in a cup of milk and hurry to the dentist.

Of course don’t take this as official medical advice; I’m just passing on the info. I wish I had read a post like this two days ago! Sob!

And yes, of COURSE I know we’ve been through much worse things than the premature loss of a baby tooth, and this is inconsequential in the greater scheme of things. But here’s the thing. When Jane was in the hospital getting chemotherapy, we often shared rooms with kids who were there for reasons far less serious than cancer. The post-op patients for routine procedures were given beds on the cancer ward for lack of a better place to put them. So some nights I’d be sitting there next to the mom of a child who had had his tonsils out, or adenoid removal, or a hernia repair. And every single one of those mothers, at some point during our chats, would express embarrassment to be so upset over "something minor" when…their words would trail off, and they’d glance at little bald, pale Jane with the tubes coming out of her. And I felt bad that they felt embarrassed, because it doesn’t matter if your kid is "only" getting his tonsils out: it’s still surgery, and anesthesia, and a hospital stay, and your child in pain. That is always hard. It doesn’t matter that things could be worse. Even we, parents of a toddler with high-risk leukemia, considered ourselves lucky not to be dealing with one of the more aggressive cancers.

Whatever health crisis your child is dealing with is a big deal at the time, even if there are bigger deals out there. We had one doctor, a youngish resident, who had her first baby about six months into Jane’s treatment. And the newborn got a fever and had to be admitted to the NICU. It turned out to be nothing, and the baby was fine and went home the next day. But that doctor came to our room and said to me, "I have to tell you this. I had NO IDEA. Here I am, a doctor, and I knew this was standard procedure and the baby was going to be fine, but the second I was alone with her in the NICU, I bawled my eyes out. I had no idea it was this hard."

I bet she turned out to be a terrific pediatrician. She knows, now. When it’s your baby, it’s always hard.

So I’ll mourn the loss of my little boy’s even-toothed grin, and I’ll get used to the new one. Even as I wiped away the blood and sand and sobbed over the lost tooth, I knew it could have been worse, and I was grateful.