Taking Your Kid to the Dentist? Set Your Expectations Low
When my youngest son was 18 months old, he fell at daycare and hit his chin on a door jam – knocking out one tooth and chipping three others. I was still there dropping him off, and saw tooth fragments and blood pouring out of his screaming mouth.
That day was the first time he visited a dentist. I don’t know if it is just who he is or the memory of that very stressful and painful experience, but from that day forward, he was the worst dental patient ever.
I took him to a pediatric dentist, who had all the toys, bells and whistles on hand that a good pediatric dentist needs to distract a child in the chair. My kid was having none of it, though. When a nurse brought out a funny stuffed monkey with a big, toothy grin, my kid was too busy writhing around in my arms, pushing everyone away and screaming to notice.
After a couple more visits with the pediatric dentist, it was clear we were all impatient with the gimmicks. I wanted her to just put down the darn blown-up rubber glove that she drew a face on with a black Sharpie and get to the business of examining and cleaning my kid’s teeth while I had a good grip on him.
When he was 3, we decided to try the dentist my husband, my older son and I have seen for years. A quick word here about my older son: Best. Dental. Patient. Ever. Sure, he was a little anxious the first time, but he followed the dentist’s instructions, kept his mouth open and his squirming to a minimum. He just held on tight to his stuffed hippo and surrendered.
I thought the comparatively calm, no-nonsense atmosphere of our dentist would be a better match for my younger son.
I was wrong.
He wouldn’t let the dentist see inside his mouth, let alone clean his teeth. The appointment ended after 45 minutes of me and the entire staff unsuccessfully trying to cajole, bribe, trick and scare him into the exam.
My husband and I are sticklers when it comes to our sons’ health, and follow all the medical pediatric guidelines, including that everyone goes to the dentist twice a year for exams and cleanings. But, for this kid, I decided to buck the norm and wait an entire year before bringing him back, assuming (hoping?) a whole year would give him the maturity he needed to cooperate.
A few months ago, I brought him with me for his older brother’s appointment so he could see it wasn’t a big deal, didn’t hurt and that he could be a big boy like his brother. For a couple weeks after, he kept asking when it was his turn.
That day came late last month. It was a day filled with success, but still had its share of frustrations. I was amazed at how well he did during the X-rays – holding still and following instructions to bite the film. He stuck one hand behind his head, elbow out, while the dentist poked around in his mouth with that horrible metal hooky thing. He was excited to play with “Mr. Thirsty.” Everything was going well, until about half-way through the cleaning. That’s when he decided “it hurts” and showed real displeasure at the gritty texture of the dentist’s toothpaste.
And, that was it. No amount of cajoling, bribes or tricks would get him to open his mouth again. He wouldn’t even let her do the much-needed “bubble bath” of fluoride foam.
I left feeling like the visit was a failure. But later, after calming down, I looked back and saw how far he had come in a year. Never before had he done X-rays or any kind of cleaning without either my husband or I holding him down. I was proud of him for coming as far as he did. I know that, in six months, we’ll get even farther.
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