wisdom-teethIt is the year of the rodent for the Kaprowy/Baker household. First, we had frequent (and damaging) visits from a screen-licking, wood-eating squirrel. Now we have a chipmunk living upstairs. Yes, our dear, little Gabrielle has reached the ultimate oral rite of passage: wisdom tooth extraction.

It happened yesterday morning and we are T-minus 23 minutes from reaching the 24-hour mark. While Gabrielle has been an exceptional trooper, she’s had a rough go. The poor kid had not four, but five wisdom teeth removed, the eerie fifth lodged near her sinus, which required considerable rooting around to retrieve. As a result, she swelled up like a balloon and went through a few bad hours as the freezing wore off and she was dealing with the anxiety that consists of, “Umm, just how bad is this going to get?” In answer, she has taken to walking around with icepacks on her face that she keeps in place using an ingenious tying technique she developed with a Caribbean-hued scarf. Think brassiere meets babushka meets top knot.

As a parent, step or otherwise, it’s hard stuff watching your kid in pain. There was a time yesterday we were just pacing around the living room coffee table waiting for the meds to kick in, and I thought, “Let this be over now. Try now! OK, that’s enough, NOW.” It gave me a very, very small glimpse at what other parents deal with whose children are sick, like really sick, and how heartrendingly terrible that must be.

And as we wait to administer her next dose of narcotics, it’s also made me think about how weird wisdom teeth are. That’s actually really what I want to talk about, though it’s taken me a while to get to the point. I mean, teeth are kind of weird anyway (god knows I’ve suffered through plenty of dreams where mine are loose and one just fell out but I stick it back in even though I know that’s not going to work for long), but wisdom teeth are particularly strange. I mean, can we get rid of them already? Are we evolving over here or not? Because they’re not helping anything. After a very cursory amount of research (which, truth be told, is my favorite kind), I’ve discovered that about 85 percent of wisdom teeth will eventually need to be taken out. That’s according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and they know stuff.

But still almost all of us have them. Scientists believe this third set of molars was important when our diet involved stuff like leaves and roots (I’m guessing not the buttery mashed potato kind) and we needed more chewing power. And since our jaws have become smaller but the wisdom teeth keep on coming, there is no room for them. So they get impacted, i.e. blocked by other teeth.

They fall under the term “vestigial,” a word that of course gives us all the creeps. Always makes me think of the movie Waterworld and how Kevin Costner not only had long, stringy hair, but a set of gills (this was an adaptation, not a throw-back, but whatever, gills and “vestigial” should mean the same thing). When Kevin flared those suckers, wasn’t that the best part in the movie? That and when he would dive under water and he’d surface with remnants of the old world.

Anyway. I spend way too much time thinking of the movie Waterworld.

Back to wisdom teeth, my major question was why they are considered wise, since they clearly are not. That answer is a little underwhelming, I’ll warn you: Because you develop these chompers later than the rest of your teeth, you are considered to have more wisdom by the time they emerge. Usually they start forming around the age of 10 and “erupt” (yes, that’s the term) when you’re between 17 and 25. Honestly, if you ask me, we need to get a way cooler explanation.

But I digress. It’s time for our poor little chipmunk to take her meds, so I’ll be seeing you next week. In the meantime, have a very Merry Christmas and enjoy a wonderful holiday.

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