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Baby talk and the dental drill

480106_16609745 My son has a passion for scientific information that tends to catch people unaware. At the end of visit with a potential kindergarten the other day, he turned to the teacher and said, “plasma...” expectantly, then tilted his head, contemplating his next thought. The man looked at him and waited patiently for the follow-up to this proclamation, which, after a very pregnant pause, was: “creates antibodies.”

When he opened his eyes and stretched his body for the first time the next day, he stared at a reflection on the bedroom ceiling and said “hmm… that looks like a womb without a baby in it.” I looked up and indeed saw a uterus-like shape made up of morning light.

He had his first cavity filled on luminous uterus morning. I had recently switched him to a periodontist, because there are things to play with there, people there that are used to talking to children. Then, as I opened the car door, I started to get worried because I realized there are people who are used to talking to children there. These people could say a lot of nice things while wielding drills and send all kinds of mixed signals to my son, who, on the cusp of five, still trusts me, and the choices I make for his comfort and safety a lot.

Not all people who work jobs where they talk to children are created equal. An exorbitant number of them could just as well be talking to a cat or a houseplant because nothing that comes out of their mouths has anything to do with the child they see in front of them. They convert everything that (by the known laws of nature and English) is supposed to have an L sound into something that has a W sound around w(l)ittle people. They make exaggerated, puppet faces when they talk and presume that all children hate vegetables.

During his first appointment, the periodontist and his apparently cheery accomplices told my husband that our son had two cavities. But they told my son that “everything looks perfect” because they didn’t want to scare him. He came away thinking that he had a clean bill of dental health.

I called them on the phone to assess whether they were expecting me to lie to him, and the omission of information seems to be their rule of thumb with preschoolers and toddlers. But the woman on the phone better explained it as avoiding needless anxiety and fear in the littler ones, because so many parents dangle it as punishment since so many parents have a tendency to use “scared straight” tactics to enforce brushing and flossing. I have to admit, I am guilty of that technique.

Meanwhile, a 4-year-old with a fear of a big needle and a painful drill may squirm and cry and cower and keep the dentist from being able to do what he needs to do. Not to mention the fact that they may feel so traumatized by the whole event that they grow up wanting to avoid the dentist at all costs. (Like me – although I fear the used car salesman tactics too many dentists employ these days more than physical pain.)

It took some doing for me to convince my son that his teeth weren’t exactly perfect, but that it would still be okay – that his dentist knew how to be extra gentle with kids. And they were.

His first filling was basically drama-free. They had an endless supply of cute metaphors and silly ideas that actually soothed him through the procedure. I went ahead and let them use the nitrous oxide (strawberry scented – I had no idea that they make such a thing), but he apparently didn’t need it or like it that well because he’s infinitely reasonable for his age and happily did whatever they asked.

What he did like was imagining, as they told him, that his mouth was going to feel like it was going on a bumpy train ride. While I don’t like it when people infantilize him, this is one of those times when I’m glad that reality was tempered with a slightly silly brand of compassion. I am grateful that he’s still kid enough to appreciate a little theater, performed for his comfort.

This is an original Ohio Moms Blog post.

Tracy Zollinger Turner blogs regularly at Tiny Mantras.