Edgy Mama: Kids and the dentist

In case you didn’t know, February is Children’s Dental Health Month. So I took my kids to the dentist last week. I lucked out because their six-month cleaning just happened to be scheduled for February. Ironically, my son missed a field trip to The Health Adventure for a dental-health program in order to visit the real dentist. Which freaked him out, because the kid hates going to the dentist.

My kids, ages 9 and 6, have undergone a seemingly inordinate amount of dental work. My elder child has chipped both of her adult front teeth. She’s had a couple of small cavities. She’s had a root canal, the result of running into the school jungle gym. She’s already had braces for nine months.

She’s taken all of this in stride. She reportedly giggled through the root canal. I wasn’t allowed to watch, which freaked me out. But, supposedly, she was happy and relaxed through the entire procedure. She still loves to sleep in her “I [heart] my Endodontist” T-shirt.

My son has yet to have any major tooth trauma, but he has had several cavities. His tiny baby teeth are crowded together, which doesn’t bode well for there being sufficient room for the big ones. Unlike my girl, who pops nonchalantly into the dentist, endodontist and orthodontist chairs, my son has dental phobia. Maybe it’s more anxiety than phobia—he doesn’t have actual panic attacks when I mention the dentist, but he comes close.

When I told him it was time for his regular cleaning, he burst into tears. “I can’t go to the dentist,” he said. “He hurts me. And it smells bad. And I’m going to miss school. It takes a really long time. And it hurts me. I promise I’ll brush my teeth everyday.”


My pediatric dentist doesn’t believe in drugging kids for routine dental procedures, which is one of the reasons I chose him. And clearly, drugging my daughter would have been a waste of money and good drugs. But I’m starting to wonder if a little laughing gas or baby Valium might not make my son’s life in the chair a bit more pleasant.

My boy’s gotten better about the cleanings. We now discuss exactly what the evil dental assistant is going to stick into his mouth. I told him that this time she would be doing four things to his teeth. After his cleaning, he triumphantly told me that I was wrong. She’d done five things to his teeth. Caught out again.

The problem for my son is the more complex dental work. He keeps knocking out this filling on a back molar and having to have it redone. And it sucks for all of us—my boy, me and the dentist.

Here’s the scene: The dentist gets my boy in a headlock. I lie across the kid’s legs and hold his hands tightly against his tummy. The boy knows what’s coming and starts to panic. Then there’s the Novacain shot, which hurts, so the boy starts crying. Then the dentist performs amazingly detailed dentistry while holding my boy in a headlock as the kid screams like Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man. Luckily, I have my hands full trying to keep the boy from bucking me off, so I can’t either rip out the dentist’s throat for hurting my baby or knock said baby over the head to quiet him down. Despite the stress of it all, I’m wowed that the dentist can do his work, talk to the dental assistant, and cajole both the boy and me, all while holding the kid in a sitting side headlock.

I’ve never had dental anxiety. But now I get nervous days before my boy’s appointment. And he’s having a cap put on that difficult filling next week.

Truly, I don’t believe in nonemergency medication. I don’t want him to expect that crutch. I want him to be tough. I want to be tough. So I’m planning to bribe him. I’ll take him anywhere he wants for lunch after the appointment. Provided there’s liquid refreshment for Mama.

March is “Talk to your kid about sex” month. I’m really looking forward to that one.


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5 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Kids and the dentist

  1. For those of you who have sent me e-mails of concern, the boy did much better at his recent dental visit. I don’t think he’ll be scarred for life. Thanks!

  2. Kristin

    Hey –
    I love this column. It makes my job search a little more bearable when I decide to read Edgy Mama first. I would like to tell you, though, that dental drugs can be a really good thing! I have a friend who accompanied her son to the dentist well into his 20’s as a result of childhood dental trauma. My son has had tons of dental work and has not been a big fan of it, but after a little nitrous oxide, he’ll tell you it is his favorite place in the world. As he has gotten older (he’s 9 now), he is less anxious and needs the drugs less. Teaching your son to be tough by making him suffer through procedures that frighten him might be like teaching babies to sleep through the night by letting them cry it out in their cribs. Just a thought.

  3. Kristin,
    I see your point. And for the record, I was a total wimp about letting my babies cry it out in their cribs–fodder for another column.

    As the combination of talking a lot about what’s going to happen at the dentist and bribery seem to be making my son less anxious, I think I’ll stick with no drugs.

    My long-term goal is that my kids learn to deal with and control their anxiety without needing or wanting to lean on the crutches of chemical calming methods.

    That said, I often make fun of myself for leaning on my personal “equilibrium enhancer,” i.e., beer, but, as in many things Edgy Mama, I’m being a bit hyperbolic.

  4. Rex Freiberger

    Wow. I think that your intention for your son is in the right place, but when taking one’s wisdom teeth out its not emergency, but i think you should use medicine for pain.

  5. Jenel

    Great article. The trick is to find a dentist that is good with kids :-)

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