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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

A Date with Dentistry

Gerry and I took the boys to the dentist for the first time when Henry was 4 and Leo was 2. It was a wonderful office, populated with friendly faces and decorated with cartoons and bright colors everywhere. The goal was to have a preliminary examination and have the kids’ teeth counted. No big deal. I was happy to see that each exam chair had a TV and that there was plenty of space for the parents to sit and stay close by, and stuffed animals were strewn everywhere. Henry was nervous and Leo was completely oblivious.
Leo got into the big chair first. He didn’t flinch as the kind dentist counted his teeth with a metal instrument. Gerry and I got a gentle lecture about the dangers of a pacifier for new teeth and Leo was done! Things got dicey when Henry took his seat. He was very uncomfortable in the chair and nearly jumped off when the dentist tipped the head back. Then Henry started to squirm as the dentist tried to look in his mouth. Finally, Henry went into hysterics when he saw the pointy metal instrument the dentist wanted to use to count his teeth. It was bad. I tried to soothe Henry, but he was terrified. And his screaming was starting to scare the other kids in the office. Ultimately, I had to hold a crying Henry in a back (soundproof room) as we coaxed him to let the dentist count his teeth. The ordeal was emotionally exhausting.
I haven’t been back. It’s 2+ years later and Henry is almost 7. Neither of my boys has had their teeth cleaned, x-rayed, or checked for cavities. I won’t go into my own personal dental horror stories, but suffice it say, we have been scarred as a family. But I am a parent, and it is my job to keep my kids healthy. Dental health is so important and I simply dropped the ball, or brush, if you will.
So this month I scheduled an appointment. I decided to take things slow. I talked to all of my friends and found an office I was comfortable with. I called, explained the situation, and scheduled a simple “meet and greet” appointment with the dentist. I told Henry all about the plan and promised him that we could go back as many time as he wanted before we even had a check up. I wanted Henry to be comfortable. I wanted him to feel safe.
Last week, we went to the dentist. The office was amazing, decorated everywhere with murals of safari animals. The waiting room was full of toys, puzzles, books and VIDEO GAMES. Henry was thrilled. Leo was excited. When we met the dentist, the boys were enchanted. She was beautiful, petite, non-threatening and to the point. I could tell that she was itching to get a look at the boys’ teeth. So she gambled.
“Do you want to watch another child have their teeth cleaned? Maybe you can try it too?”
Henry and Leo were interested. So we stayed. We watched the incredibly friendly and cheerful dental hygienist go to work on a tween girl. The boys were mesmerized and tempted by the choices of bubblegum flavored toothpaste and cherry flavored fluoride. The dentist stopped by again to tell the boys that they were welcome have their own teeth cleaned and join in the fun. She invited them to simply sit in the chair and learn about the tools. I decided to take advantage of the situation and offer a bribe.
“Boys, if you get your teeth cleaned, I will let you stay afterwards and play video games. We will stop any moment you want, if you feel scared or uncomfortable.”
It worked. The dentist called Leo over first and Henry watched as his brother picked a strawberry flavored toothpaste. Leo was a trooper, I tell you. He was a little scared by the instruments because they made noise, but I held his hand. He was nervous when the dentist counted his teeth, but didn’t make a fuss at all. No cavities! Clean teeth! It was a huge step forward for our family!
I looked at Henry, trying to gauge his readiness. But he surprised me by climbing right into the chair and saying, “Let’s do this. I want bubblegum toothpaste.” I couldn’t believe it! He sat still as the dentist counted his teeth (no cavities!) and began the cleaning herself (no hysterics!). He endured the entire cleaning and fluoride treatment. I was so proud of Henry in that moment that I actually got misty eyed.
I learned a lot at the dentist. I learned that I need to let my kids face their fears and just be there for them no matter what. I know that seems obvious when I put that in words, but I had been sheltering them by not going to the dentist. I was projecting some of my own fears onto their experiences and not making the best choice for their overall health. I also know that it is time to get myself to the dentist…if they could do it, then so can I.
Have you taken your preschooler to the dentist? How did it go? What advice would you give about the first trip to the dentist?

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