My little T-Bird has just turned a whole big year old! She now has the ability to run around the house grabbing stuff, she turns the pages of books all by herself, and has developed some very well-honed pointing-at-everything-she-sees skills. She also does some super-adorable things like kissing all of the kitties she sees in her picture books, rocking her baby doll, and saying Mmmmm whenever she gets near my breasts, which she calls “Na-Nas”. Her hair is long enough now that I can put two little piggy tails on top of her head (which look more like little horns than piggy tails). She giggles manically at her own private little jokes and loves trying to walk backwards.
Along with all of the new found skills and cuteness lies a dark underside, however. T-Bird also protests (very loudly) to having to wait…well, for anything. She protests (very loudly) to having her face wiped, to having her diaper changed, to relinquishing dangerous things she has fished out of trash cans, or from under the couch. She screams (very loudly) if she is left in her high chair for one single second longer than her interest in food has lasted. She screams (very loudly) when thwarted, when removed from perilous heights, or when she is asked politely to end her attempts to edit things on the keyboard while her momma is typing.
So it was no surprise to hear T-Bird holler (very loudly) when we began brushing her little tiny teeth with a real big kid toothbrush. We have been wiping her gums and teeth off with a cloth since she was born, but when she began to show interest in our toothbrushes, we made the upgrade to a fancy pink model with a grinning baby bear on it. The toothbrush is almost as adorable as she is. We sprung for two different varieties of brushing gel to use with it… one all-natural, the other flavored like faux fruit punch. Neither variety seemed to make much of an impact on the ear-splitting scream-fest that ensued when we were brushing, though.
Since oral hygiene is in our children’s best interest, whether they protests (very loudly) or not, it would be simple to just keep doing what we were doing and hope that she finally learns to accept this necessary evil. But after a week of trying to be as respectful and gentle as we could with this process, she was becoming more upset, not less. And the upset was lasting much longer than the actual brushing. One day, there was quite a bit of blood that accompanied the brushing which disturbed me greatly. I looked in her mouth to investigate further.
Holding a flailing, kicking, wiggling, twisting, 30-pound toddler who is screaming (very loudly) while trying to examine the inside of her mouth (which is full of biting, chomping, gnashing teeth) is a challenge, to say the least. But I was running into a lot of trouble lifting her top lip to see the gums above her front teeth. I could see that this is where the bleeding had begun, though. I decided to wait until I had some more help and gave T-Bird the “na-na’s” she was so desperately pointing at by this point. Later, with Sir Hubby’s help, I was able to see that her upper lip was was very tightly connected to the gums by the piece of tissue known as the upper labial frenulum.
After doing some Googling around, I learned quite a bit about this common, but often undiagnosed issue. Most parents have heard of a lingual frenulum, the tissue that connects at the bottom of the tongue. If the lingual frenulum is connected too tightly it can cause a child to be “tongue tied” which may lead to speech problems and trouble with breastfeeding. But a tightly connected upper labial frenulum can lead to breastfeeding woes, as well. Poor, weak and painful latching-on can lead mothers to stop breastfeeding much sooner than they would like to, or worse yet, lead to a diagnosis of “failure to thrive” or a suggestion from well-meaning relatives or medical-professionals to switch to formula. I did have latching-on pain with T-Bird initially and through the first few months, but my previous breastfeeding successes with our other babies helped me to get though it without losing confidence. Many babies learn to overcome these nursing limitations by four months of age and the painful latches vanish and the weight gain begins. Unfortunately, many mothers in this situation don’t make it to this point and they miss out on the incredible joys of extended nursing.
Even though we are well past the point of having any nursing problems because of T-Birds tightly connected frenulum, and we don’t place a huge amount of emphasis on the cosmetic ramifications (many people with a gap in their front teeth have a tightly connected labial frenulum), we are going to visit a pediatric dentist to see what our options are for having the tension removed from her frenulum tissue, anyway. There are concerns that the tightness of the lip against the teeth, and the aversion to brushing thoroughly, may accelerate tooth decay and cause tooth damage.
I’m so grateful for the close relationship that our whole family has with T-Bird. Even though she is right in the middle of the developmental stage where she protests (very loudly) to things that are frustrating for her, we were not willing to attribute real pain to that same developmental stage. It would have been very simple to dismiss her (very loud) protests to teethbrushing as just one more of her frequent daily outbursts. Or to start lamenting to everyone how she was so advanced that she reached the “Terrible Twos” a full year early. It would have been simple to just pretend like she was being a typical toddler…but treating her respectfully means understanding that she has real, legitimate feelings about the daily events in her life. We have now gone back to wiping her teeth with a cloth until we can visit the dentist. And yes, she still protests (very loudly) to the daily wiping, but once released from our arms, she toddles happily out of the bathroom, and down the hall to explore her ever-expanding world. And we are chasing right behind her to get the toothpaste that she swiped while we weren’t looking…
Happy Birthday, T-Bird!