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National Editorials & Columns

The 5 Stages of Floss

Psychologists claim that the five stages of loss are universal — that the same steps of the grieving process are experienced by every single person. And now, after my son’s most recent checkup, I can confirm this belief.

Who knew that being instructed to brush your toddler’s teeth could bring such turmoil?

Still grieving the loss of my baby’s toothless smile, I’m learning to accept my destiny as a brusher of toddler teeth. This new world of baby-friendly fluoride and floss has been a difficult journey. But knowing that other parents have been through the brushing blues gives me the strength to talk teeth and to open up about telling my child to “open wide.” May my story bring you peace if you ever find yourself on the precipice of toothpaste practice.


Denial. A loud giggle bubble escaped the moment my pediatrician mentioned it was time to start brushing my toddler’s baby teeth. Surely, she was joking. Who cares about baby teeth? They are placeholders! Baby teeth are the “save the date” cards you send out before the actual wedding invitation. They are the fake ID you get in high school. The rolled-up socks you stuff in your training bra. Baby teeth are little more than a promise of what’s to come. (If you’re lucky.)

I told the doctor not to worry. I regularly put apple-berry-flavored toothpaste on an old Bratz toothbrush and let my son slurp it off. He loves it, often preferring the treat for his “teef” over dessert. So ... we’re cool, right?

My pediatrician was not impressed. I had to start brushing.

Anger. Is this lady nuts? She wants me to pry open my screaming, squirming kid’s mouth and then actually scrub down every single tooth?! Like, as in real brushing? I decided I needed to hire a new pediatrician. Clearly, mine was not licensed.

You’d think that somewhere at some time during her 8 million years of schooling, someone would have informed my pediatrician that toddlers bite. I’m not sticking my hand in there! Any unwanted object gets chomped off. A toothbrush is likely to come back without its head.

Which, by the way, is a chocking hazard. Or didn’t her “medical” training go over the importance of breathing? Fine, “doctor,” I’ll brush his teeth if you are ready with the Heimlich maneuver.

The pediatrician gave me the number of a CPR class. Great.

Bargaining. Unwrapping the new, doctor-recommended toothbrush, I begged to the universe to make this foray into dental hygiene easy on both me and my child. My son is part gremlin; he’s mild-mannered and adorable, but he turns homicidal when confronted with water. Remember all those earthquakes in California a few weeks back? Those weren’t caused by fault lines. They were caused by my washing my son’s face. The earth shook.

“Open wide,” I said to my son.


“Baby, Mommy needs to brush your teeth.”

“No! Feeshies.”

“OK, let’s make a deal. We can make fish faces in the mirror if you promise to let Mommy brush your teeth after you’re done.” He nodded, and we puckered up to make fishy faces.

“Now open your mouth,” I said.




“Yes,” I said, and I forced the toothbrush into his mouth, my pointer finger supporting the head of the brush. My son chomped down.

“Ow!” I screamed. “You bit me.”

My son calmly shook his head no. “You bit.”

This is why I don’t shop at flea markets. I’m a terrible bargainer.

Depression. I’m a terrible mother, I thought to myself. I can’t even get my son to do the simplest task. What happens when he’s older? What if I can’t get him to shower? He’ll be the smelly kid in school! How will we survive the stinky teen years? He’ll be picked last for dodgeball during recess. He will have to grow accustomed to creepy, solitary hobbies, such as butterfly pinning, and lame sports, such as hacky sack. I hate hacky sackers. Seriously, do those kids have any friends? Oh, no! He may compensate for his lack of companionship by becoming a ventriloquist. His only friend will be a puppet, all because I couldn’t teach him to brush his toddler teeth.

I’m a failure. I have no right being a mother.

Acceptance. Meh. They’re just baby teeth; they’ll fall out no matter what I do.

Like Katiedid Langrock on Facebook, at Check out her column at To find out more about Katiedid Langrock and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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