Jerry Nelson: Teething troubles

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum

A young couple whom my wife and I know have a baby who is nearly a yearling. Teething has been a frequent topic of our conversations.

It’s clear from videos of the little guy that he has reached the stage of life where there are only two questions on his mind whenever he encounters something new: 1) what is this? and 2) how does it taste?

The great Erma Bombeck wrote that she had complained to her mother when Erma’s infant son was starting to teethe. Erma’s mom recommended applying a little whiskey to the gums.

Erma said that she tried it and that she soon felt much better.

The teething process is totally unfair. Our first uncomfortable encounter with teething comes when we are infants and our communication skills are limited to various versions of “wah!” Due to this shortcoming, it’s difficult to convey to our caregivers the message, “My mouth really hurts and if you don’t do something about it, I’m going to scream so loud that the windows shatter!”

You eventually outgrow this phase and become self-propelled. Your vocabulary expands to include such important utterances as “want drink” and “go potty” and “uh-oh”. You enter preschool and go to kindergarten and your social circle expands beyond the dull, lumbering people you had been forced to live with during your first several years.

And just when you are stretching your social wings, something deeply unsettling happens. One morning, you awake to discover that you have a loose tooth. Your choppers, your pearly whites, the focus of your cute little face seems to have come with a factory defect. You hope that there’s an Allen screw somewhere that can be tightened.

You share the sad news regarding your defective dentition with your parental units. They aren’t nearly as upset as they ought to be. For the millionth time, you secretly wonder what’s wrong with them.

Then, tragedy strikes. One day you are tearing around on the playground with your pals when you suddenly notice that something hard is rattling around in your mouth. You spit the thing out and discover that — horrors! — it’s your front tooth!

You promptly report this frightening development to your parental units. They merely smile and say that the Tooth Fairy is about to pay a visit.

As per their instructions, you put the tooth under your pillow that night. The next morning, you are delighted to learn that the tooth has been replaced by cash, although you find it somewhat troubling that there’s an invisible spirit who has a weird obsession regarding children’s teeth. How many baby teeth has the Tooth Fairy collected? Does she store them in rows of quart mason jars in her basement?

You assume that you will spend the rest of your days looking like a poorly carved jack-o’-lantern. But then a miracle! A new tooth begins to emerge, gradually filling in the canyon-sized gap left by the old one. This is a huge relief, even though it means enduring the teething process all over again.

Your new choppers are called “adult teeth.” This is nice, although having such teeth still doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to drive. So much for truth in advertising.

Your parental units give you instructions regarding the care of your fangs. You are shown how to brush and quickly learn that it’s much too tempting to swallow the toothpaste. They shouldn’t have made it the same flavor as the paste that’s used for craft projects.

When I was a wee lad, my sister Di showed me the “right” way to brush my teeth. According to her, you have to spit at least three times while brushing in order to do a proper job. To this day, I don’t feel that my toothbrushing has been thoroughly completed unless I have spit three times.

A person might think that he’s done with teething once he reaches adulthood. That person would be wrong.

When I was 22, I began to feel an old, familiar ache at the rear of my jaw. Upon exploring the area with a finger, I was alarmed to discover a new molar emerging from my gums. My whole mouth began to throb with pain. Thankfully, I was old enough to try the whiskey on the gums trick.

But I knew that this wasn’t a long-term solution, so I consulted my dentist, Dr. Dan. Dr. Dan reported that I had impacted wisdom teeth and that they needed to be extracted.

“Won’t losing my wisdom teeth mean that I’ll be less wise?” I asked.

“Maybe,” replied Dr. Dan. “But it also means that you’ll get another visit from the Tooth Fairy.”

Jerry Nelson