Littleboy 1 is on a field trip to the dentist. Yes; the dentist. When the preschool teacher informed me of this visit, I made the heinous mistake of laughing. I don't really know why, I just imagined this minibus of kids turning up at the dentist thinking they were going somewhere fun and ....oh.
But the teacher smiled thinly, clearly thinking. "Here goes the crazy English Mommy again...". I had forgotten, you see, that dentistry is sacrosanct in America. It is not, as it is often in London, regarded somewhere a bit grim you are forced to endure every six months or so, your main worry being whether they still provide NHS treatment and whether the hygienist will be nice to you or berate you for not flossing enough.
Here, the average child will end up spending many, many hours in the dentist's chair, as orthodontic treatment is as much a rite of passage as taking exams or learning to swim. A favourite discussion of mothers I've met here is which dentist you go to; people will travel for miles to go to one they like, and they are rightly suspicious of dentists who are trying to con them into unnecessary treatment, considering the amount of money involved.
Dentists must certainly make a fortune. The boys' dental surgery is more like a home entertainment centre, with TV screens on the ceiling and every room decorated in a different theme. Insurance covers some of it, but certainly not all; Americans spend a LOT on their teeth.
And you can tell. I have noticed, for instance, watching the Winter Olympics, that you can always tell which athletes are American, before it pops up on the screen, by their dazzling, perfect, straight, white teeth. Take Lindsey Vonn, the downhill skier. I'm willing to bet she's had a few mouth smashes over the years; yet she has the most perfect set of gnashers. European athletes in contrast are immediately recognisable by their crooked smiles.
It is well known that Americans think British teeth are awful. My new dentist has already informed me that I have the 'classic British overbite' before going on to suggest adult braces. Are you joking? I nearly spluttered. My UK dentist (a Scandinavian who coincidentally used to work in New York) has always said my teeth are fine. I hated the plate I wore for about a year as a teenager and even with these new invisible braces there is no WAY I am going back to orthodontic treatment in my mid thirties. I humoured him by agreeing to ask his receptionist to find out how much it would cost me and whether our insurance would cover it (it didn't even begin to, so I had the excuse of saying I couldn't afford it). The receptionist flashed me a dazzling smile; "Oh, I had those braces, and they were JUST GREAT."
But I also felt rather indignant; I may not smile like Julia Roberts but I am not, as far as I am concerned, Ugly Betty. Meanwhile The Doctor has been told that his teeth are Beyond Help but it doesn't matter so much because he's a married man. Which is quite funny, but also pretty insulting......
I guess we Brits just have a different attitude, although I know this is changing; cosmetic dentistry is becoming much more popular in the UK. Maybe one day we will all smile like Americans?
So on reflection it's not surprising that an integral part of preschool education is a field trip to the dentist. And I can see the rationale - to educate them and make them think it's something fun, so they won't dread dental visits.
Anyway, judging by both my sons' thumbsucking habits, there will be plenty of those to come.....