Care and Feeding

I Feel Terrible About My 3-Year-Old’s Appearance-Altering Accident.

I don’t know how this will affect her confidence.

A girl smiling with a chipped tooth.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I took my 3-year-old to a school playground we’ve been to a few times before. She and I were on the ground-level balance beam when she stepped funny and fell, and I heard the metal clang. Then I saw her grab at her mouth and to my horror realized she had broken a front tooth—the bottom part had completely chipped off. I brought her to her aunt, who is a pediatric dental hygienist, and she checked the other front tooth and told us it was loose and that it might tighten up depending on the level of damage. Well, that tooth is now extremely loose. Given she is a 3-year-old with a finger-sucking habit, I’m not confident the tooth is going to make it until we can be seen by her dentist next week.

My kiddo is fine, and a few minutes after she fell, she was asking if we could go back to play. Still, I feel absolutely terrible, like the worst parent ever, and keep second-guessing my judgment in bringing her to the playground, even though little kids from the school use the same equipment. Despite her aunt saying dentists see stuff like this all the time and my husband being super supportive, I still feel as if I’ve messed her up until her permanent teeth come in. I’m worried about how this will affect her smile, her confidence, etc.

—Totally Toothless

Dear Totally Toothless,

I’m hoping that, by the time you read this letter, you will have already consulted with your dentist and received a recommendation for how to proceed in a way that helps your child get through the next few years until the other kids her age catch up to her in the tooth-losing game.

It’s natural for parents of toddlers to feel guilty when their kids experience a significant injury. But you aren’t to blame for this and you haven’t “messed your daughter up.” Accidents really do happen, and internalizing guilt over things you couldn’t prevent isn’t helpful for you or your daughter.

Practice being kind to yourself, as this is only the first of many situations like this you’ll experience as a parent. As much as we’d like to, we can’t mummify our kids in breathable bubble wrap to keep them from bumps, scrapes, breaks, and falls. As they grow, their ability to remain calm and adaptable after injuries is tied to our own. They often look to us to see how they should react. Try to model letting go of what’s outside of your control. It’ll likely help boost your daughter’s confidence as much as—if not more than—having front teeth as a toddler.

—Stacia

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