By Melinda Munson

Teeth have always been a touchy topic in our house. One of our kids spent four years in feeding therapy just so we could brush his chompers without sitting on him. This paid dividends later as he grew to be tall, strong and stubborn.

One strange phenomenon you’ll find in the Munson home is that the Tooth Fairy has never been welcome. When a Munson child loses a tooth, they promptly throw it away — because teeth, particularly bloody teeth, are disgusting. Later that night, Mom or Dad puts a book, not money, underneath the proud child’s pillow. 

One time we forgot to fulfill our peculiar fairy duties, and woke up to our oldest, who was going through an intense Harry Potter phase. She often spoke in a cockney accent.

“Oye, the Tooth Fairy didn’t give me nuttin’!” she bellowed.

We talked her into pretending to go back to sleep, and pretending not to see us plant “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” in her bed.

It might not surprise readers to know I’m an aggressive overbrusher. My gums have receded to an unhealthy state. I’m a 42-year-old woman with an 80-year-old mouth, an apt metaphor for the days I wake up just as tired as when I closed my eyes the night before.

If I’m very careful, my gums will last until my death. But if I don’t learn to be one with the universe, a surgeon will scrape tissue from the roof of my mouth and graft it to the affected areas, a process which is excruciatingly painful, and even worse, leaves the patient unable to speak during the recovery process. 

Teeth can be a mirror into mental health. I never had a cavity until my mid 30s, when I went to the dentist for a six-month check up and he counted six sugar bugs. I was flabbergasted. I brushed my teeth. My diet hadn’t changed. 

“Are you under a lot of new stress?” the dentist asked.

“I started doing foster care,” I said.

“Ahhh,” he replied. “You’re also grinding your teeth.”

Yesterday, one of my son’s silver-capped teeth fell out. I have waited six years for him to shed this symbol of neglect. He and his biological half-sister are my only children with metal caps. The dental hardware was installed shortly after they came to live with us, a necessary measure to stem the rot. The caps have been a constant reminder of previous inadequate nutrition, missed human connection, lack of basic hygiene — and other trials which I try not to imagine. 

Ironically, because we are born with both sets of teeth in our jaws, early development can impact the growth of adult teeth. The choices my son’s birth mother made, whether intentional or not, will affect his oral health for the rest of his life. While we throw his shiny baby tooth in the black trash can, we’re never really rid of his troubled first years. And that’s okay. Because as I’ve found, scrubbing too hard becomes its own problem.