By now I should be used to our son’s quirky phobias.  There have been so may in his 9 short years…

First it was the fear of parking lots.  Honestly, he refused to walk in parking lots when he was a toddler.  It would have been easier to get Maggie, at 3 months, upright and walking than to get our 2-year-old Sam to plant his feet on pavement.  Trips to the local grocery store were a nightmare, because as soon as I parked he would start wailing, “Carry me! Carry me!”  And so I would dangle Maggie’s car seat from one elbow and hoist Sam, feet kicking in sheer terror, in the other.  It was strange, it was annoying, and mercifully it only lasted a few months.

His paranoia of insects, on the other hand, still lingers to this day.  This one may be a certifiable phobia, but we’ve never scheduled the psychiatric visit for confirmation.  I’m sure our previous neighbors – who couldn’t see through our cedar fence – thought there was serious child abuse going on in our sandbox every time a fly buzzed through the yard.  Sam would shriek and wail and scream, and eventually pretty much refused to go outside at all.

An interesting observation:  crawling insects were fine. Only flying insects were terrifying.  And if they buzzed too, well then the poor child would nearly pass out.

I still remember our first camping trip after Maggie was born.  This photo about sums it up – note the wailing child in the background:

7-27-06 Nancy Lake 101

For some reason I thought renting a public use cabin at Nancy Lake was a good idea.  Silly me.

Sam had just turned 2, and refused to nap the day of our departure.  We were used to our dogs whimpering all afternoon as we loaded the truck, begging to come along .  We were not used to a toddler whimpering all afternoon, wasting his last chance for a nap in his cozy bed for days.  We decided not to hit the road with a tired and hungry toddler, so we asked Sam to climb into his high chair for a quick dinner.  We should have known that was a precarious request for a tired boy in bulky Xtra Tuffs, but we were still relatively new at this parenting thing.  As a result, he tumbled into the corner of the kitchen table, missing the yet-to-be-removed cyst under his eyebrow by a few millimeters.

Blood started gushing from the wound, and we had no ice to prevent the swelling.  Clark brought me a bag of frozen lima beans from the freezer, but I didn’t realize it was open and ended up spilling the beans all over the floor.  Here is Sam’s eye injury the next day, still swollen and making him look all tough in the forest:

7-27 Nancy Lake 069

As you can see from the photo, we did eventually arrive safely at Nancy Lake.  But the second we embarked from our vehicle the mosquitoes began to attack.  Now some folks might use the plural form of “mosquito” to mean a few bugs, but let me clarify that my usage implies potentially millions. And for those who don’t know, many Alaskans jokingly refer to the mosquito as our state bird, because our version of these blood sucking insects is about the same size as Midwestern barn swallow.

Need I remind anyone of Sam’s insect phobia?  He made it a brave 20 steps before convulsions of fear started to overcome his fragile psyche, at which point Clark swooped in for a rescue.  Despite his 50 lb. backpack, Clark snatched Sam and started running to the cabin.  I stumbled behind as quickly as I could, but I had 3 month old Maggie strapped to my chest and all our sleeping gear strapped to my back.  Just ahead, Clark was bouncing Sam so vigorously that one of his little boots plopped onto the muddy trail.  Clark was oblivious, but Sam pointed his little finger at the boot and started screaming.  I was miraculously able to bend over and pick up the boot without crushing Maggie or somersaulting from the weight of the gear on my back.

Things didn’t get much better once we arrived at the cabin.  It was treacherously muddy, and all the tree roots were banana peels for Sam.  He fell off the picnic table, got stuck in the mud, and slipped on the wooden walkway to the lake countless times.  And the bugs were unreal!  The mosquitoes were traumatizing, but the enormous buzzing dragonflies were downright paralyzing.  I must admit, even the dogs kept whining to be let into the cabin.

We have had many successful camping trips since that first horrid excursion, but Sam’s phobia of bugs still lingers.  On a raft trip last summer he nearly overturned our portable camp table, laden with hot cocoa and scalding ramen noodles, when a bee buzzed by our gravel bar.  So we’re still working on it.

I could fast forward to Sam’s potty training fears, but he reads this blog and would never forgive me.

Lately a new Sam phobia has emerged:  that of losing teeth.  Dentophobia?  This is sort of a problem for any child between the ages of 5 and 12, right?  It started last summer, when he refused to let us touch his dangling front tooth.  I apologize in advance, because this is really gross:


His tooth dangled like that for weeks and I am not even kidding.  We were back in Nebraska at the time, and everyone started calling him Fang.  Worse yet, he started answering to it.  That tooth was the cause of many tears, bribes, and battles of the will.  People could hardly look at him, and he could barely eat.  And when he did, it sure wasn’t pretty since the dangling incisor rendered half his mouth useless.  It finally fell out when my sister-in-law gave him an “accidental” bonk in the face at the Fremont State Lakes.

Fast forward to March, when another tooth was beyond ready to be pulled:


Once again the tooth was so loose that Sam could not eat.  We tried everything short of putting his head in a vice and yanking the thing against his will.  We started the day with gentle, coddling patience.  We moved to ignoring his whining.  Eventually we banished him to his bedroom, threatening that he could not come out until the tooth did too.  That lasted about 30 minutes, and then the cycle started all over again.  He was emotionally spent:  tired, hungry, and terrified.  I was ready to fly my sister-in-law up to bonk him in the face again!

When the tooth finally did fall out (gravity kicks in eventually, right?) we took a video clip of him declaring, “IT DOESN’T HURT!”  The mini movie was dedicated to Future Sam.  He was cheerfully chomping a pickle as he reassured his future self not to worry:  “Just pull it out, it doesn’t hurt!” he bravely declared.

This weekend we got to meet Future Sam.  Let me introduce you:


It’s like a morbid parallel universe of the lateral incisors.

Only worse.

Last time the true misery started when he couldn’t eat a pancake at 9 AM, but ended at 3 PM with him happily munching on a pickle.  It was painful, but relatively brief.

This time he couldn’t eat a waffle at 10 AM and the ordeal didn’t end until 9 PM the next day.  He could barely talk with his jaw line so distorted, and his fear factor was off the chart.  He ate virtually nothing for two straight days, and was once again physically and emotionally exhausted.


He kept dragging himself around the house, clutching his stomach and whining, “I’m huuuuungry.”

Now maybe we are horrible parents, but by this point we were pretty much done with the drama.  His tooth had been twisted at a 180 degree wrong angle for 36 hours, so clearly it needed to come out.  We’d tried to be sensitive to his fears.  We’d shown him YouTube videos of children happily pulling their teeth.  We’d drawn x-ray like pictures of his tooth and gumline, explaining that the exposed root wiggling up was what hurt, not the rest of the tooth coming out.  We told him stories about his fears as a toddler, which he now realized were ridiculous.  We’d offered help.  We’d given space.  Nothing worked.

So while it was painful to watch him clutch his gut, I wasn’t about to start pureeing his food. These natural consequences were testing our limits, but we didn’t know what else to do.  We’d offered him food, but he absolutely refused to eat.

Next he claimed he was going to throw up.  It’s not very motherly, but I ignored him.  He hadn’t eaten in 2 days – what could he possibly have in his stomach?

But puke he did.  It was pure liquid, straight into the corner of the couch.

Clark hoisted Sam up by his armpits and swayed him like a pendulum to the bathroom where he could finish the job properly, while I grabbed a towel and began cleanup duty.

We knew he was scared and upset, but didn’t realize his nerves were frazzled to the point of vomiting.  We were still reeling from the shock of it all when Sam rushed out of the bathroom and held out his palm.  “Look at this!” he announced.  

And there it was:  the tooth.  Finally.  

Of all the tooth extraction methods we had brainstormed, puking it out certainly didn’t make the list.  But it worked, so we let it go.  It was 9:00 and the boy was ready for a very large, late dinner.

I’m not sure if there will be more strange phobias in Sam’s future, but I do know he has more teeth to lose.  This morning he assured me that none of his teeth are currently loose, so we should all have plenty of time to prepare ourselves for the next one.  Trust me:  we need it.

6 thoughts on “Dentophobia

  1. Thank you so much for this post. It’s the perfect parallel to my daughter Hayley. When she was a toddler, she had a fear of doorways… and pumpkins… and then, of course, flying insects of any kind (including regular old flies, which made one particular drive from SoCal to NorCal right through “cowtown” quite memorable, and not in a good way!) And now. With the teeth! It’s crazymaking! We’re waiting for one to fall out right now and the tooth behind it is already showing! Her gumline looks like Chunk, from the Goonies! It’s good to know we’re not alone!

    1. This too shall pass, right? We keep reminding ourselves that someday we’ll look back on these moments with laughter! I hope your daughter’s tooth falls out soon so she can eat and smile again!

  2. I just left the dentist with my 11 yr old daughter she had a really lose back tooth she refused to let fall out it went sideways and stuck in her gums. Reading your blog hit home. We’ve battled this since she started losing teeth. Her first phobia was snow. Second grass. It has always been something. Fortunately she outgrew the others but the teeth not so much. After leaving the dentist I decided to Google this has to have a name I thought. After watching my daughter as tall as I am and already started puberty grip my hand and cry as the Dr. Was just looking. I am finally threw this phase today was her last baby tooth. However she’s already worrying about her wisdom teeth. So for a few years the stress of loose teeth are over!

  3. My son is 7 and the stress/anxiety/fear/ocd about losing his teeth is about to send me to the madhouse. It is really sad to see him like this. He stresses about them when they’re not truly ready to come out. We pulled one today because he was worried sick about it. I thought he would feel better but alas, worry about when the next one would come out has already consumed him. We have prayed, supported him, told him to stop….I’m at a loss. I have two other Littles. What can I do?
    He is exhausted and making himself sick from the all-consuming stress. He has had other fears about tornadoes, planes crashing into buildings, etc. but I’m starting to think this one takes the cake. I enjoyed your post and can relate to it so much in lots of ways.
    Just trying to make sure there is light at the end of this very long tunnel. 😦

    1. Thank you so much to everyone who has shared their stories. I am snuggling my girl right now her name is Amelia. Together, we feel much better knowing that other people feel scared to!

      Feeling scared sucks! 😢 My daughter is afraid of the grinch. But she is learning to be brace and we are so proud of her.

      Good luck everyone, we are in it together!

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