My kid’s dentist wants to know this. Maybe you do too.

“What did you feed her mommy?”  The dentist was peering over her blue mask and the supine form of my 3 year old, reclined in the chair, staring at Dora on the ceiling.

From my perch a safe two feet outside the room, out of reach of fetus endangering nitrous gas I wondered what she was talking about. Did she need to know in case Little vomited? Was she going to need general anesthetic? I hadn’t approved that had I?

“Uh, muesli.” I said.

“Oh no, I think you gave her something else. She is so good. I have never had a patient this good. She’s staying so still. We will have to give her lots of stickers when we’re finished. I didn’t think she would do this well.”

OH! She’s joking. Phew. We were in there to get a filling that may be too close to a nerve and result in a baby root canal and cap so you’ll understand why I was nervous. (She didn’t need the root canal after all. It was a cavity they spotted almost a year ago but waited until now to work on because she was too little to sit still before.) The silent office, normally bustling, was testament to the dentist’s nervousness at the response of one so young. Little was her only patient right now. She had expected some difficulty. She wanted to knock her out for the procedure but we thought it too risky.

“When I figure out the secret I’ll let you know,” I told her.

“You should write a book about it if you figure it out,” she said. “All your kids are so good.”

Now, by good, she obviously means they sit still in the chair without crying or screaming. I didn’t believe her at first. When the Boy was in there the first time she came out after, removed her mask and said, “He did so well. He was really good.”

I responded, “Well, you have shows for them to watch, and prizes after, and you don’t let them see all the sharp implements you are sticking in their mouth, and you talk them through it and you give them fruit scented nitrous to help them relax. How could they be anything but good?”

I think the staff at our dentist’s office are really excellent at what they do.

“Oh, you’d be surprised.” she responded. “Trust me, most kids are not so easy to work with.”

Several check ups later and I began to understand what she meant. I heard many children screaming in the chair during a routine check up. There is a lot of crying that goes on behind that waiting room door.

The morning I took in Little a girl just a bit older than her threw a fit during a routine checkup. They waited to take Little back until she was gone because they didn’t want her to get upset before they started work.

So, I’ve been giving it some thought. Is there something that we do that makes the dentist easier for our kids, with their different personalities and ages?

Here are my guesses.

  1. It starts with good parenting. By that I mean, it starts with having a relationship with your children that teaches them they can trust you. It means teaching children to obey and have self control. It means that they know that we always do things with their best interests in mind. It means that we talk to them and teach them and help to understand as much as they can given their age. Basic, really.
  2. We don’t project our feelings onto our kids. Even if I am fearful of the work my child is getting done they will never know it. I project confidence that they will be fine, both in what is being done to them and how they will behave. I am always calm and reassuring in the office, explaining and anticipating to keep them from feeling nervous. (The staff are excellent at this too, so it’s easy for me.)
  3. We prepare them in advance for what will happen, and I tell them what is expected of them. On the way to the dentist last week Little asked from the back seat, “Where are we going again mommy?” “To the dentist.” I replied. “Oh, why do I haf to go back der.” “Because you have a hole in your tooth. It doesn’t hurt now but if we leave it it may hurt a lot so the dentist is going to clean it and then fill up the hole so that it won’t hurt you. She’s going to be very careful to do a good job, so it will take a while. You will have to stay very still while she works on your mouth. But you will get to watch a show while she is working to help you stay still. So you will be able to do it, because you’re a big girl now.” “I will mommy, I will stay vewy still for the dentist to work on me.” That was the last of several similar conversations. Every time she asked I answered with confidence and as much information as I thought she needed.
  4. We don’t ever mention needles, or fear, or drills. They have no idea what actually happens in their mouth, and they trust us enough that they are content with what we do tell them.  Fear isn’t really an option we allow them. Homeschooling gives us an advantage in this area. They avoid schoolyard horror stories. Should it ever come up I will tell them that it has already happened to them and they were fine, so there’s nothing to fear.
  5. We really praise them for doing a good job after. “You sat so still! You really helped the dentist to do her job by staying still for her! Good job!”

I don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure those things help a lot. There’s also the part where they watch shows less often than a lot of children, so it seems like a treat to get to watch, even past someone sticking gloved fingers inside their mouths.

What do you think?

all content © Carrien Blue

9 thoughts on “My kid’s dentist wants to know this. Maybe you do too.

  1. Smiling. I remember that dentist. She's the best – love their whole office. My kids used to get upset when I told them that we wouldn't be back for 6 months! 🙂 Dentists out here are not so fun.
    Totally agree with what you said about parenting. The kids know they can trust you to keep them safe from harm. They also know that throwing fits won't get them anything. 🙂

  2. I agree with the confident preparation. My 4 year old has been a couple of times to the dentist now, and each time, we talk about the dentist in confident tones, never even mentioning that some people don't like it. There's no reason to present that aspect.

    We also like to 'play dentist' at home sometimes. We have a battery operated toothbrush that sounds like a dentist's tool, and we like to poke around on each other's teeth. It brings the real thing a sense of normalcy.

    And yes, the tv shows don't hurt 😉

  3. I'm not doing a good job then lol! Corey did wonderful, Lexi on the other hand was all about the dentist until she heard another kid screaming then she screamed bloody murder and she didnt even have any cavities just a cleaning!

  4. I think experiences are also a factor. My son has had a lot of doctor visits, surgeries, tests, hospital stays and poking and prodding for all three years of his life. All of this has added up to him having a general fear of all doctor related visits, because despite any confidence building – most of his visits DO hurt or are uncomfortable (i.e. shots, drawing blood, ear drum vibration tests, people holding him down against his will).

    At this point, even bribery has no effect, let alone talking about what will happen. I'm afraid it will take him longer to get over this.

    Also, if they have language and hearing disabilities, sometimes there is no way to prepare them for what to expect – which was our case for 2 1/2 of those years.

    We try to measure it in small improvements. At this point he is now able to have a conversation about seeing doctors without fear and even sit in the office waiting without getting upset beforehand.

    I can't wait for the day he'd sit in a dentist chair! That would be a huge milestone.

  5. Just Me-I totally agree with you that your son's experiences would be hard for him to overcome.We're really fortunate not to have gone through that. How he must have perceived what was happening to him when he couldn't really understand even a simple explanation would take a long time for any one to get over I think.

    It sounds like you and he will make it eventually though.

  6. All good things to do! Also, I bet you don't make going to the dentist seem optional when it isn't. I think it is so frustrating and confusing to children when their parents say things like, "Would you like to go to the dentist?" or "We're going to the dentist now, is that okay?"

    Children DO need choices and practice making decisions, but it seems unkind to pretend to give them a choice about something that isn't really optional, and then drag them along regardless of what they 'decided'. To me, that just seems like inviting a temper tantrum!

  7. I think being able to prepare them for the experience is a really huge factor in the success of good behaviour.When my son had to go for his submucous cleft surgery a little over a year ago, we explained to him what they were going to do, and why, and we were honest that it would hurt when he woke up and it would take awhile for it to feel better, and that he would have to eat squishy food for a long time, and so on….and on surgery day, my little trooper of a 4 year old marched into that hospital, announcing to everyone who would make eye contact that he was there for surgery to fix his mouth, and that it was going to make him talk better, and he was really excited to be there. And when he woke up after surgery, he was in an awful lot of pain, but he was a real soldier about it (as much as a 4 year old in tons of pain can be). I think it was a lot easier on him because the pain was not a surprise for him.

  8. Ah yes, after several trips to the dentist and seeing other kids' behavior, I wonder how they handle the situation. I think you're about the parenting. It all starts with how children behave with towards their parents. Preparation is also the key – tell them the importance of having good set of teeth. Our Collierville dentist makes it a point that my kid would receive a little reward for being 'brave' and a 'grown up'.

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