I spoke to Alpha Grandma on the phone on Friday. She tells me I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread and that she misses me. Of course, I already knew this, but it’s nice to hear it out loud like that. She also told me a delightful story about my 3 year old niece calling her to boast, “I’ve been to the dentist, and I don’t have any cavities.”
“Isn’t that cute,” said I, “How terribly adorable of her to want to share that with you. Which reminds me, did I happen to mention what happened the last time I took Elder Miss to the dentist? Or more specifically, the orthodontist? No? Oh well then, prepare to be enchanted and enthralled all over again. Because my daughter? Why my eldest daughter never fails to charm and delight.”
Some background information—however disruptive it may be to the narrative flow of my tale, is rather necessary. Especially for those of you who are not privy to the same weekly updates regarding the everyday minutia of our lives that Alpha Grandma endures.
Early last fall a routine dental check-up revealed no cavities (huzzah!) but a potential problem with EM’s bite. I wasn’t clear at the time on the specifics—something about upper/lower palette alignment blah blah blah. Frankly, I was more absorbed by the fact that times had changed so drastically that dentists were now routinely referring children as young as 7 years old to orthodontists to pay too much attention to anything else the woman had to say.
Of course the waiting list for a first time appointment with any of the orthodontists in the area was eternal, so we didn’t get in to see one until just after Christmas. But when we finally did, our guy wasn’t two minutes into his examination before he pulled his fingers out of EM’s mouth, peered at me over those ridiculous goggles dentists sport, and asked, “So does she still suck her thumb?” And that, friends, is the exact moment I discovered that crow feathers don’t tickle so much as chaff going down, and egg will cause a rash if left on the face too long.
EM was an ardent thumb sucker from 7-8 months of age to about 5 ½ years. Yes, I had heard all the dire warnings about allowing children to continue this habit into their later years, but naturally, I assumed that “later years” meant something more like “marriageable age”. And besides, I had also heard all the dire warnings about allowing your child to fuss and cry for more than 5 seconds at a time, or feeding them whole grapes and peanut butter before the onset of puberty—alarmist bullshit, obviously—so I ignored the thumb sucking admonitions, just like I ignored nearly every other piece of parenting advice I ever read in a magazine.
EM’s orthodontist—a large and imposing Greek man who reminds me very much of my own beloved D.D.S Dr. Floyd Tanner, so I’m inclined to like him otherwise—tells me this was probably a mistake.
Because she sucked her thumb for so long, her tongue, rather than resting in its natural position against the roof of her mouth, has developed the habit of protruding slightly to rest always on her lower teeth. The absence of her tongue’s pressure pushing against the upper teeth has made her entire upper palette too narrow, causing not only the misalignment that the dentist noticed, but also a glaring gap between her upper and lower front teeth. Or, to be fair, maybe not so glaring since I never noticed it until it was pointed out to me. But now I can’t seem to stop looking at it. Ditto the tip of her tongue which I suddenly can’t not notice sticking out from between her teeth all the time.
Happily, all of this is easily correctable with a dread retainer. But before he committed us to this costly apparatus, he wanted to try filing down a few of her molars, wait three or four months, then come back in and see if anything shifted into place. So that’s what we did. Last Wednesday was the follow-up to that protocol.
Background complete. Now pay attention. We’re getting to the charming bit.
Recall again little Zoe, my niece, strapped into her car seat in the back of her mother’s car. Tracy speed dials Alpha Grandma on her cell, tells her Zoe has some important news she wants to share, then passes the phone back. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts, Zoe’s got a kick ass pair of miniature pink sunglasses on when she announces, in that deadly serious toddler lisp of hers, “Grandma, I’ve been to the dentist, and I don’t have any cavities.” EM was still grunting and gesturing like a well trained monkey at 3 years old, but whatever. That’s not the funny part.
Wednesday afternoon, it was the assistant who got EM settled, and bibbed, and stretched out in the exam chair. When the orthodontist came in, we exchanged a few pleasantries, as you do, then he turned to EM and asked her to open up. And what does EM do in response to this simple request?
My very nearly 8 year old daughter flips over on her side, and sticks her thumb in her mouth. I assure you, I’ve never been so proud.
Of course, the whole appointment went down hill from there. She refused to speak, just sort of whimpered and moaned to all his questions and proddings. More than once he asked me, “What is wrong? I am not hurting her.”
“I know. I know,” I assured him, “She’s just a god-awful idiot sometimes. I’m open to a series of shots and drills if you think it would straighten her out. That’s a killer set of pliers you’ve got over there. Let’s attach them to her fingers and toes and start twisting until she promises to act her age.”
In the end x-rays were shot, molds were made, and the dread retainer was ordered—all by the assistant, as the orthodontist clearly didn’t want to deal with her. Sadly, I don’t think I ever managed to convince him that she really isn’t retarded, and she really doesn’t suck her thumb anymore.