The cat and the tooth
It’s the ‘cat tooth fairy’ to the rescue. Yes, really.
Within one week’s time, my five- (and three-quarters)-year-old lost four teeth, both her front uppers and two side lowers. They just popped right out, day after day, like tiny, white Pez.
This kept the Tooth Fairy busy, let me tell you. It also called for some imaginative storytelling. As the Tooth Fairy’s mortal realm representative for my daughter, that week required me to bring all my imaginative skills to the forefront of what seemed to become an evening ritual.
Unfortunately, none of that important Tooth Fairy prep work even slightly prepared me for when my daughter’s cat lost a tooth.
“Daddy, daddy,” Uma cried deliriously after coming home with her mother from a standard vet visit, “guess who’s coming back to our house tonight!”
She didn’t give me a chance to answer. Instead she held up a tiny baggie with a miniscule, pointed baby cat incisor. I was clueless.
“The cat! Lavender lost a baby tooth and now the Tooth Fairy is coming back!”
Let’s pause for a moment in our story to unpack what was going on in my head at that moment.
First, cats have baby teeth? Which they lose? Sure enough! As it turns out, kittens lose their teeth, just like little kids, and adult teeth grow back in. OK, neat.
Second, why in all my years of knowing, owning and being around cats, did I never experience a lost cat tooth? Well, the vet mentioned that in nearly all instances, the cat will either swallow or spit out the tooth with its human owner being none the wiser.
Third, so why was our cat the exception? Because my daughter somehow discovered the tooth and the idea of the Tooth Fairy coming for a visit for literally any reason brings her unmitigated joy.
So, I was forced to spring into action. This was a Tooth Fairy emergency!
First, we needed to go deep into the mythology and figure out how a cat tooth fairy would even work.
As it turns out, belief in the Tooth Fairy, or at least a tand-fé or tooth fee, dates back to 1200 and early Norse tradition. The modern Western version that we practice can be traced to a 1908 “Household Hints” article in the Chicago Daily Tribune where writer Lillian Brown suggests mothers visit the local five-cent counter and stock up on some small gifts to leave for their children as their teeth fall out.
Lillian specifically mentions using the Tooth Fairy as a way to encourage children to remove their own loose teeth!
And a fascinating 2013 survey by Visa discovered that American children receive, on average, $3.70 per tooth.
In all that, no mention of cat tooth fairies.
But as usual, my daughter had an answer.
“The cat doesn’t have a tooth fairy, daddy,” she told me with the authority of an ivy League professor. “MY tooth fairy will take care of it.”
After some discussion, it was decided that the tooth would be placed not under my daughter’s pillow (thankfully), but rather in the kitchen, near the kitty’s food bowls. Finally, Uma wanted to leave the Tooth Fairy a note explaining the unusual circumstances of this latest visit.
“I’m sure she’s aware that it’s a cat tooth and not one of yours,” I offered.
“Well, it’s just polite, daddy.” You can’t argue with being polite.
I had one final job. After my daughter went to bed, I drove across town to the 24-hour drug store where, thankfully, a small selection of kitty toys offered me a cheap bag of ping-pong ball sized rollie cat balls. Perfect. Or should I say purrrfect.
Around midnight, before going to bed, on a bright pink scrap of construction paper, I wrote, “Oh my goodness, Uma, a kitty tooth! I don’t see one of those very often. Thank you for being a good mommy and taking care of Lavender. Love, Your Tooth Fairy.”
Thus passed one whole weekday evening, dedicated to the creation of a fiction about a house cat’s tooth, designed to provide my daughter with one more morning of magic; because isn’t that what all of this is about?
Santa. The Easter Bunny. Dragons.
That morning, as I read my own hand writing to my daughter and she gently unwrapped the kitty gift and rolled the balls toward her own child, I considered the capture, once again, of innocence and the collective awe of the human experience, all manifest in the miniscule tooth of a baby house cat.
“Daddy, how many teeth does a cat have?” she asked me.
“A lot, baby, I hope your cat has a lot.”
Dan Szczesny is a long-time journalist and writer who lives with his wife and energetic daughter in Manchester. To learn more about Dan, go to www.danszczesny.com.