Today is the big day! Peyton has her 6 months cleaning at the dentist. She’s been going since she was three years old to the dentist but not every visit has been a positive experience. In fact, all those negative experiences have led to dental anxiety. Too often we have had to deal with impatient dental hygienists or dentists that have felt children should just let them do what they need to do and be quiet. Well, all that rough and gruff treatment has finally caught up. Peyton now has severe anxiety about going to the dentist.
Dental professionals have a very archaic approach to dental care with children. Did you know many dentists still feel it’s appropriate to strap a child down, force their mouths open and do the dental work while the child is scared out of their minds? They actually have several dentists offices here in Minnesota that believe this technique is acceptable. To me, it’s barbaric. How traumatic would it be if someone strapped you down and forced dental work on you against your will? I know I would be traumatized. This summer, Peyton had a tooth that became infected and needed to be pulled. This was a suggested solution by a dentist. I could not believe he suggested it. Needless to say, we do not see him anymore. And rest assured I did not put Peyton through that.
But the consequences of having a dentist that felt this type of treatment was acceptable has left its mark on my daughter. She now has dental anxiety. She is now fearful of getting in the dental chair. She used to go back and have her teeth cleaned at the same time I had mine cleaned with no issues. But when our dental office had some turnover and hired a male dentist I started to notice a change. The last few times we’ve been in there for cleanings I could hear some commotion from Peyton’s room. I could hear her say she didn’t like this or that. It was not the same kind, caring and gentle dental office that we had been going to for the past few years. So at our last cleaning, I had a conversation with the hygienist before she started and explained to her that Peyton has SPD and ADHD. That she just needs to understand what is going on before things happen to alleviate any stress for her. I like to know what’s going on so I don’t think it’s too much to ask for them to communicate with Peyton about what they are doing.
Even though Peyton has had some wonderful experiences at the dentist it only took a few people to ruin all those memories and replace them with fear, dread, and dental anxiety of the dental office. So what do you do? As a mom, I would like to line every single one of those people that caused the trauma and give them a piece of my mind. Their behavior is inexcusable. But would that do anything? No, no it wouldn’t. So what do I do?
I make Peyton’s appointments at a separate time than mine and I go back with her. I have a discussion with the hygienist and teach Peyton how to advocate for herself. How to communicate with the hygenist. I also talk with Peyton about the dentist and answer all her questions and try to ease her concerns before we go. That’s what I did today.
For the past month, I have been prepping Peyton for the dental appointment to help ease her dental anxiety. I have been talking about it and letting her know why we are going in and when we were going in. I also discussed with her how I would be in the room with her the whole time so that if she needed me I was just a hand wave away. We even worked out a hand signal she could give me if she needed me to ask them to take a break. This made her feel like she had control and a plan in place if she needed it. She knew she had someone on her side that was going to make everything better if she was scared.
When we arrived this morning the staff did seem a little taken back that I was sitting in. They know the routine, Peyton and I always have our teeth cleaned at the same time. So I politely mentioned that Peyton was having some anxiety so I was going to sit in to help make her feel safe and comfortable. Then when we met our hygienist, I explained to her Peyton’s anxiety and mentioned she had some negative experiences the last few times so Peyton had a few things she wanted to talk about before they started. She was very receptive. Peyton expressed her concerns and asked what they would be doing. Our hygienist went through the tools she would be using and answered all of Peyton’s concerns. Then we started.
The appointment went smoothly! Peyton did ask a few questions while her teeth were being cleaned but we moved at her pace. The hygenist answered her questions and made sure she was comfortable. When Peyton got scared of one of the tools they let her look at it and see that there was nothing to be afraid of. What we experienced this morning is how a dental visit should be. There was patience, compassion, and empathy. Something that had been missing at oh so many appointments.
The dentist came in and did a once over on Peyton’s teeth. We talked about brushing and flossing habits. Both which need improvement. And we even discussed braces! Can you believe it? Braces. I was shocked that braces were on the horizon but not really. Peyton has had lots of shark teeth, that’s when the adult tooth starts growing in but the baby tooth is not out yet, hence shark teeth. We even talked a little bit about the option available. Now we have a plan. Improve Peyton’s brushing and flossing skills, let a few more baby teeth fall out and then make a decision on braces.
The biggest take away from our dental visit is that children are not like adults. You cannot expect a child to suck it up and let the dentist do what needs to be done. That type of thinking needs to stop. Even adults should not have to deal with that. We all deserve to know what is being done, how it’s being done and why. Yes, the dentist is a professional and knows what they are doing but you are a person and it’s your body. You deserve to know what is being done and why.
I eased Peyton’s dental anxiety by listening to her, making a plan and bringing our dental hygienist in on our plan. We all worked as a team. That is how it should be. Your dentist, the hygienist and you are a team working to ensure your oral health.