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.