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Going to the dentist

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

First visits

The kids had their bi-annual trip to the dentist the other day. A necessary, but not necessarily looked forward to, day. It was a fine visit. But that means pretty good, really.

 

Our dentist is a nice, benign, conservative (in treatment) older gentleman. He's just the kind of dentist I needed when we moved here, after 12 years of inconsistent dental care on my part. It turns out his manner is pretty good for the kids, too. The boys like him, he's been responsive to concerns, doesn't over-react to the (occasional) less good visits, and doesn't try to push treatments or services unless he thinks we really, really need them. As someone who once experienced a vindictive hygienist who taught me the meaning of oral pain (I dared suggest she could have let me know how late she was running in over 90 minutes in the waiting room), I appreciate this.

The first visit

Although we had Alfs see a pediatric dentist for his first visit when he was young (and before we lived here), it was mostly because I didn't have a regular dentist of my own at the time and figured, "Why not?" With Woody, he happily sat in this dentist's chair and opened wide. First dentist visits were not momentous events; they were party of regular health maintenance and not much else.

Sunshine has been tagging along to appointments since she was born, so a year ago when it came time for her to have her first real visit, I don't think I gave the issue a second thought. She'd seen me and her brothers have cleanings, giggled with the hygienist and office staff, and generally been comfortable in the context of "going to the dentist." But as soon as I set her in that chair, her moth clamped shut and no way, no how was she going to reveal the pearly whites that just minutes before were flirting away. I was fairly stunned. No amount of cajoling helped. Thankfully the dental staff was understanding and suggested some ways to prepare her for the next visit in six months.

Second verse, same as the first

Six months later, I tried to prepare Sunshine for the dentist visit. I practiced looking in her mouth and found a Dora the Explorer book about going to the dentist. She talked excitedly about it. But as soon as she was in the chair, her mouth clamped shut again. Ugh.

This time, I was able to get her to open her mouth to let the hygienist count her teeth, but that was it. Again, the staff was understanding and accommodating, but I think they doubted my sincerity when I insisted that I had tried to prepare her for this.

Leaving the office that day, I wondered if I had over-prepared her or missed something. Friends assured me that this happens sometimes and said I just needed to keep trying. Patience and persistence, they said.

Third time is a charm

This time, I dreaded the visit. The boys, of course, would be fine. But Sunshine? I tried to prepare her again, but more subtly, by comments in passing rather than directed discussion. Still, what would happen? Would she let anyone in?

On the appointed day, we made our way to the dentist's office. Alfs went first, and the report back was good. Then it was Sunshine's turn.

At first, she exhibited the same reticence as she had in previous visits. The hygienist was patient and kind and showed her everything. Finally, Sunshine said she wanted to sit on my lap. Fine, I can do that.

I laid back in the chair with Sunshine leaning back on me and, lo and behold, she let the hygienist clean and polish her teeth and let the dentist poke around for issues without much fuss at all. We collectively decided, however, not to push our luck and give her the full flouride treatment. Next time.

I tried not to make too big a deal about my relief, but I was relieved. Sunshine spent the next two hours grinning widely to show off her shiny teeth.

Patience and persistence worked just fine, it turns out.

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