I am far more familiar with my kid’s dentist than I care to be. Between the Engineer’s “shark teeth,” the Princess’ abscessed teeth that had to be pulled, and the crooked teeth issues, we spend a lot of time at the dentist. It never gets easier.
Plenty of people hate going to the dentist. Lots of adults can’t stand it, and kids often think the dentist is torture. Mine do, at least. I’ve seen kids at the dentist who cheerfully sit down and say “ahhh!” without freaking out, but we’ve never experienced that. Yay overexcitabilities.
It hurtssssss us, precious!
In fact, I personally hate going to the dentist. You know why? It hurts. A lot! I always come home from the dentist with a migraine even from basic cleanings. The water spray from the ultrasonic scaler HURTS! I’m not kidding. If you don’t have sensitive teeth you probably don’t even notice the water spray. I do.
It feels like spraying an exposed nerve ending with ice. Over and over, no stopping, no reprieve. It’s literally torture. And if you say anything about it being uncomfortable, the hygienist will probably look at you like you’ve grown 3 heads. How could water possibly hurt? Trust me, it does.
The next time your kid doesn’t want to go to the dentist, listen to them. And remember – just because you can’t feel it, doesn’t mean they can’t.
The patient is uncooperative…
I vividly remember sitting in the chair at my orthodontist as a child, bored and waiting for him to show up. They handed me my file to hold while I waited, so I, of course, read it. One of the very first entries was marked “patient is uncooperative.” Because I had asked a question. I don’t even want to know what’s in my kid’s files, because they go way beyond uncooperative to flat-out kicking and screaming.
As I write this, contemplating my visit to the dentist tomorrow to deal with no less than 8 cavities (the hazards of ignoring self-care) I wanted to share a few things that can help you or your child the next time you go to the dentist. Many dentists do not carry these options, so you may have to call around to find one that truly cares about the comfort of their patients. Repeat after me: no more torture!
1. Silver diamine fluoride treatment
This is generally used for kids – I called 4 dentists trying to find one who would apply it for me with no luck. If your child has a cavity that needs filling, this is the alternative. Quickly brushing a coat over the cavity is enough to stop tooth decay. No drilling, no needles, nothing scary – just a little paintbrush. It’s an amazing thing!
The only problem is that is can stain teeth a little. That’s fine for baby teeth or molars, but might not be something you want on your child’s front teeth. Considering that dental work for younger children often means anesthetic and the operating room, I think minor staining might be a safer, healthier alternative.
2. A topical anesthetic
Ask for a topical anesthetic before they begin cleaning the teeth. Some dentists charge extra, some consider it part of the office visit. It’s generally a mix of different medications, but most of the ones I looked at have some amount of Benzocaine. Always ask your dentist in case of allergies.
The dentist will apply the anesthetic before they begin cleaning your teeth, and the process of cleaning will remove the medication. It desensitizes your teeth and gums, allowing the hygienist to work quickly and effectively.
Many dentists offer sunglasses to patients, but not all of them do. If yours doesn’t (and why are you still going there?) then bring your own sunglasses. The Engineer had a lot of trouble with the bright lights on his last visit because the sunglasses kept slipping. It’s a huge trigger for him. Even with his eyes closed the light was too bright.
Make sure that the kids have a good, kid-sized pair that’s slightly oversized in the front and not too long in the back. If the glasses are too long, they push forward and don’t cover the eyes. Alternatively, a sleep mask will work, but some children and adults panic unless they can see what’s going on.
4. A blanket
Dentists are generally cold, barren places. If your child has anxiety, being cold makes everything worse. The dentist and assistants are moving around and being active to stay warm, but your child is laying there, motionless. They get cold. Either dress them snuggly in layers, or bring a blanket for them. For children with anxiety and sensory issues, a weighted blanket is a good choice. Help them stay calm and relaxed.
5. A music player
Laying still in the chair is boooorrrring. Even for me, a grown adult. Take a music player and a few podcasts or their favorite music to help them stay still and calm without losing it. I’m going to be in that stupid chair for 2-3 hours tomorrow, and it’s not going to be fun and amazing. I get antsy on a good day, so I need a strategy to help deal with it. Earbuds, here we go!
6. A caring staff
This should be obvious, but it still needs to be said. Not every dentist is a good fit. One told my husband that he was making tooth pain up. One told me that I needed my wisdom teeth removed because they had trouble getting to them (now they have to be removed due to cavities in the back, yuck.) The staff make a huge difference in how your child will view dental visits.
Staff who lie – I’ve had this happen – and say “it won’t hurt a bit!” deserve a slap-down. Be honest with your child. Every kid knows needles hurt, and telling them otherwise makes them distrust you. Be honest and say it will sting for a second, instead of letting them fear a long, drawn-out ordeal.
Staff need to tell their patients what’s going on, no matter their age. If the hygienist thinks your kid doesn’t need to know what they’re doing next, then it’s not a good dentist for you. Our dentist tells the kids she’s counting their teeth, and she does, out loud, as she checks each tooth for decay. They think it’s silly, but it’s not scary.
Staff should be honest, caring, and they should take your child seriously. If I had the option of topical anesthetic as a child, I wouldn’t fear the dentist so much. In fact, this is the very first dentist in my entire LIFE who even mentioned topical anesthetic is an option. I’m no spring chicken – it shouldn’t have taken this long.
Sensitivities and overexcitabilities can make life difficult, but regular visits to the dentist are non-negotiable in our house. We find ways to work around it. Ways to help the kids cope. And along the way, I’ve figured out a lot about my own needs. You could sum this entire post up by saying “be an advocate,” because sadly, most dentists do not offer any accommodations for sensitive people.
You get used to it, honestly. Being the loud, squeaky wheel. After a while, it’s normal!