homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Well, that was just Hell.

A few months ago, one of my favorite bloggers posted a heart-rending entry discussing her emotional reaction to a bad experience her son had at the dentist. Last month, my own beautiful 4-year-old boy, C, started a series of visits for repair work on just a mouthful of decay.

First off, let me just note for the record that I already feel like the world's worst mother because my very young child had so many cavities. There. I said it. I suck. I broke my kid. I'm still beating myself up over that, thank you.

Two of his teeth had such bad damage that he required "baby root canals". The dentist said that it was that, or pulling them...and since these are molars that he likely won't lose until he's at least 9 (later if family history repeats; we're late bloomers with the permanent teeth around these parts), she felt that pulling them would just lead to major shifting and a need for serious orthodontic work down the road. So we bit the bullet and did it.

The first visit/root canal went remarkably well. He was alarmed by the numbing injection, but was very compliant and patient and calm. He was mostly concerned with exploring the tools and he even hugged the dentist at the end of the visit. I reflected on Kelly's post and sighed a big fat *whew* of relief that we'd had such a dissimilar experience.

The second visit was the second root canal. He went into it okay, but freaked out mid-procedure. He started shrieking that he could feel the drill. The dentist gave him extra "sleepy juice" and he got through it, but tearfully. He was pretty loopy after the visit, and sulky the rest of the night. Well, it's hardly surprising. That's a lot of rough stuff for anyone, let alone a little guy.

The third visit? That's when things should have gotten easier (just simple fillings), but he started shutting down. C was nervous about the shot. She gave him the option to go without and she barely got the drill near his mouth before he was out of the chair and screaming. He wouldn't let her near him, period. We had a LONG cajole with him before she finally noted his cough and suggested that since he "wasn't feeling well", we reschedule. I agreed.

We got through the holidays. I talked with him a lot about his experience so far, how proud I am at the bravery he's shown, and what he can expect at the next visit. I empathized my ass off, telling him that I've been through similar work and understood his fears and discomfort. I also explained why we would have to go back for another visit. I was very clear (in age-appropriate terms) that while there would still be the unpleasantness of the injection, the work would be far less invasive, painful, and involved. He seemed to take it all in. He girded his loins. I waited until he gave me the all-clear, and I made the final appointment.

Which was today.

And went, well, exactly like the previous appointment.

What started as a cheerful, "I'm okay, Mom! I'm brave!" quickly turned into I will kill you if I have to, to escape this. It was awful. How do you encourage a frightened four-year-old to submit to a procedure that he dreads? It was a long, long cajoling session, with both the dentist and myself going rapid-fire, trying to find The magic words. We praised him. We distracted him. We reasoned with him. He was not having any of it. Then we pulled out the most ineffective weapons in our collective arsenals. We bribed him. We begged him. We bargained with him.

Then it got ugly. First, she shamed him. The Momma Bear in me bristled (how DARE you shame my child!?!) but the stressed-out advocate in me let it slide as a last-ditch effort of a desperate person. Plus, I realized that it was having NO effect on him. He's too young and frankly too secure in his self at this point to give a damn WHO did this without struggle, let alone if they were younger than him. Or (gasp!) a girl.

And then I? I threatened him. Talk about feeling like complete and utter wretchedness. Mind you, it was not an "I will punish you" threat. It was an attempt at cold-hard-facts reasoning that sounded really, really bad once it was spoken out loud. Something along the lines of, "If we don't do this easy fix now, it will get worse. It will hurt you a lot more and fixing it later will be WAY more painful."

Yeah, way to go, Mom. Gee, why isn't he cooperating?

I finally asked about sedation, and the assistant went to the front desk to check on pricing. Ninety-five dollars. Ninety-five dollars for a 2-minute procedure. Would it be worth the peace of mind and the calm child? Quite possibly. Do I have a spare ninety-five dollars lying around? Not so much. I blanched. The dentist and I exchanged a look, and...

I held him down and she did the fastest drill-and-fill I have ever seen or imagined. While my son shrieked in anger and frustration and fear.

I want to crawl in a hole and cry.

My son, however, immediately dried his tears and cheerfully announced, "Oh! That wasn't so bad!" and smiled at her.

The temptation to throw out a "told you so" was lost both in my knowledge that it would be ridiculous and in my complete and utter emotional exhaustion.


  1. poor C! and poor you! I remember, when my little guy was 4 they took his adenoids out- and I had to hold him down so they could put the gas on him. He was scared and shrieking, and I felt like the WORST mother in the whole world. I went back into the little waiting area, and cried. (I was the only parent who did- it made me feel weird). Afterward, he was the first kid to decide he was done crying about it, and got up to play with the legos. The nurses were just amazed.

  2. Well, of course, of course! I relate to you. I'm glad you wrote it all out and I hope it helped!

    One of the benefits of our experience was after I ditched the dentist I signed up for about eight Yahoo groups on alternatives to the specific treatments they'd recommended and did tons of research. I found so much awesome information I am able to happily avoid the very intense procedures the dentists suggested, not do anything nonconsensual, and meanwhile find less creepy dentists. So that's been a blessing.

    It will be interesting to see how your boy feels the next time he has an appointment. For now, I hope you have a beer or a hot tea or whatever you need, a bath, and some snuggles. Sometimes this parenting gig is hard. Our mistakes haunt us. But you know myself and other mamas aren't going to judge you. We've been there, or can at least have compassion for what it's like.

  3. Oh and I hate to be big ol' comment-hog. But another thing I discovered in my readings is that tooth decay is NOT about the virtue of a parent (or mother, b/c that's who we blame, let's face it). I read countless and I do mean TONS of stories of families who practiced excellent oral hygiene and had decay issues; families who practiced little and did not. Siblings who had the same care but one kid would have issues and another would not. Kids with far, far more advanced issues than what you report here, and at younger ages too. I know this doesn't change whatever's going on for C. and his teeth. But I truly truly hope you can begin to let the guilt go. < hugs >

  4. Thank you, Kelly. I've done that research too, and have spoken with my mother--who says that "bad teeth" run in her family. She dodged them but her father and several siblings had a rough time of it. C's brother T is fine, and has worse hygiene habits. Academically, I realize this was probably just *one of those things*. But I'm getting a bit of backlash that doesn't help that lingering Mom-guilt.

    And dear Lord, comment-hog away. I nearly DIDN'T write this post, because yours had been so much more eloquent. But the thing is, I wasn't rewriting the same article. This was my experience and I didn't need to inform the world so much as I needed to purge my own demons about this. I did have some cocoa and a little quiet time, but it was the writing that really calmed me down.

    Maybe I would have had an easier time with this if we were a vaxing family...or if we'd had the boys circumcised. I don't know how one ever gets comfortable with the idea of, well, holding your kid down while someone does something scary and painful to him. Even when it IS "for his own good".

    And Rachel...thanks for sharing about Sam. He reminds me SO much of T. ;)

  5. Hopefully one day we will meet in person. Sam and T playing together would be loads of fun, I bet.

  6. @Haez
    Many mothers (and some fathers) have to make these decisions and they're very hard and often they DON'T "go public" with their vulnerable feelings. I am glad writing this helped you (that's why I write, too, or one of the big reasons). But believe me when I say you writing this helps others too. :-)