I hate tooth brushing. Oh, I didn’t always hate dental hygiene. Sure, there was that time between birth and adolescence when I didn’t think it was as important as say, daydreaming about marrying Jon Bon Jovi—but I didn’t always hate brushing my teeth.
Maybe I hate it now because I’ve spent the past 15 years yelling about it. I figure that I’ve yelled “for pete’s sake, go brush your teeth” approximately 4 billion, twelve thousand times since Junior came along—give or take a few hundred times when Junior was too sick to fight back.
I don’t recall ever fighting my mom on brushing. I just brushed. There was no yelling, no discussing, no resistance. Junior, on the other hand, is a completely different story. When he was little, Junior wouldn’t even talk about dental hygiene—let alone actually brush without an argument. In fact, Junior and his aversion to good oral hygiene finally made me see that there really are two different types of people in this world—future dentists and future denture wearers.
Spotting a future dentist is easy. They’re the little kids that brush after every meal—including school lunches. You can find them in the bathroom, flossing their blindingly bright pearly whites instead of participating in the tetherball competition on the blacktop. Their smiles are the widest in the class pictures. They carry dental floss with them at all times and they never, ever use it in art project—not even when the teacher runs out of yarn for the macaroni necklaces and begs to borrow it.
Future denture wearers are also easy to spot. For one thing, their mustard-colored teeth usually aren’t blinding—but one look in their mouths and you will wish you were blind. That, of course, is if you can get past the smell of 100 days straight without brushing.
These children always have a handy excuse ready when asked why they haven’t brushed. The toothbrush is too big. The toothbrush is too small. The toothbrush isn’t electric. The electric toothbrush tickles too much. You get the picture.
The mothers of these little walking oral biology experiments try everything to turn their children into future dentists. They have their children watch Mommy brush her own teeth. They sing songs about clever little toothbrushes that scrub all the big, bad plaque away every day while their toddlers whack the heck out of their cheeks with a teeny, little toothbrush.
And they even resort to animal sounds. They tell their child to roar like a lion and then jam a toothbrush inside. I tried that. Junior was three. I was a little more enthusiastic than I should have been and Junior ended up with a toothbrush halfway down his throat. My poor child has never roared again.
Some parents get so disgusted by the rows of yellow in their child’s mouth that they resort to threats—but honestly, telling a child that his teeth are going to fall out if he doesn’t brush just doesn’t work. Oh sure, you can get away with that threat when your child is little. But once those baby teeth start flying out—the threat is useless, thanks to the Tooth Fairy. She’s always fluttering around, giving out money for missing teeth. So when all the baby teeth are gone, any kid with half a brain figures out that if he could just lose his permanent teeth, he could double his Tooth Fairy profits.
At that point, you can always threaten with dentures—but what kid doesn’t think false teeth are a barrel of laughs? They don’t see fake teeth as a life of Dentu-Cream and corn off the cob—they see it as a built-in way to impress their friends. They imagine themselves on the playground, showing off a full set of faux choppers to the other kids, while they proudly announce “and you would not believe the killing I made in the Tooth Fairy market for the old dirty ones.”
And the very worst part of all is this sad little fact. If your child gets dentures, it means that he has won the tooth brushing battle. After all, now he’ll just soak his teeth overnight—no brushing needed.
As for my future denture wearer, well, I have some hope. Now that he’s a teen, he’s realized that girls appreciate a full set of pearly whites that don’t get removed for the enjoyment of your friends. In fact, the other day, he even asked for white strips.
Ah, the power of puberty and girls. It’s like a miracle.
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