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I recently read a “New York Times” article about Melbourne’s underworld king of crime, Mark Brandon Read, a.k.a. Chopper, who’s not sure how many people he’s killed, whose liver is finally expiring, and who prizes his silver-plated dentures that at least partly account for his nickname. A kindergarten friend of our twins, who had a recent bout of dental work, seems to be sporting some new silver herself. But these days talk in our house revolves more around another kind of bling, namely “princess teeth.”

“Are my princess teeth still in?” our 2-year-old asked me, parting her lips on her slightly buck baby whites when she clomped into our room at 6:12 the other morning. We had spent the previous afternoon at the dentist, Jane’s first visit, which she apparently found delightful.

“Should we shine up your pretty princess teeth?” the dentist asked Jane as he tipped her back in his chair. She gave him a quizzical gaze, never having considered that her mouth might be regal. Little did Jane know that she actually descends from a sort of dental dynasty. I have been told on more than one occasion that I possess “deep grooves,” which I've always accepted as the highest form of compliment. One of my husband's college monikers was “Chomp,” the true origin of which I am reluctant to learn but which I interpret as relating to some kind of toothy virility.

“Who’s your favorite princess?” the dentist asked Jane.
“Well, you’re going to look just like her.”

Jane found herself unable to resist the lure of induction into our heritage, of accepting her “princess teeth.” She assented to treatment with a nod that nearly toppled the orange sunglasses the dentist had placed on her eyes to shield them from his light.

The dentist, however, was not nearly so deferential with me.

“She uses a pacifier?” he demanded.

“Sucks her fingers,” I confessed.

“You're helping her brush?”

“Sometimes,” I lied.

I suffered a withering look when I admitted I'd been depriving my three children of their fluoride pills. And then I declined X-rays for the twins, in part because I’m wary of gratuitous radiation and in part because we lack dental insurance.

“They don’t have cavities that I can tell, but I can’t be certain without X-rays,” the dentist warned. “Are they flossing?”

“No,” I sighed.

“You should help them start.”

A wave of fatigue washed over me, as the dentist displayed the plaque he'd just retrieved from between my son’s molars. Chastened, I tiptoed to the receptionist, who must have mistaken me for proper royalty because she billed my credit card $534 for the visit. My three children, like true commoners, bickered over cheap prizes from the treasure box. But back in the minivan, clutching her plastic giraffe, new toothbrush and paste, Jane managed to buoy my spirits.

“That was fun!” she cried. “I like my princess teeth! I just don’t want to suck my fingers anymore because I have princess teeth.”

She flashed me a royal grin. I smiled back at her in the rearview mirror and hoped that she would keep her resolution, since we really can’t afford the orthodontist—much less anything with a silver glint.

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