Thursday, June 15, 2006

Healing old wounds

I am not my mother. My mom was excellent about the details. She gave great dinner parties. She got us into all the necessary lessons and organizations and never missed a deadline. And every six months we went to the dentist.

I remember every fluoride treatment, every filling and every x-ray. I didn’t like it at all. Dr. Larkin was not a fun-loving guy. He didn’t have toys or stickers for us if we were well-behaved. He didn’t have movies playing over the chair. No – there was one poster of Snoopy on the ceiling. Take it or leave it. Almost all of my baby teeth had cavities and needed to be filled. Then, as my permanent teeth emerged, they too seemed to be full of decay. Around the age of 13, I put my foot down. I couldn’t stand the Novocain shots, so I stopped getting them. For about 4 years I had at least 6 or 7 cavities filled au natural. I remember feeling very strong and powerful. Take that, big doc! What a stupid kid I was. Dr. Larkin didn’t care one way or the other. All I proved was that I could handle lots and lots of pain.

When I entered my twenties, I decided that I’d had enough dental care for quite awhile and I stopped going. I remember my first visit after about a four-year gap. No cavities. Coincidentally, it was a different dentist, however I’m sure there was no room left in my teeth for decay. There is so much silver in my mouth that when I laugh really hard, and throw my head back, small children ask me what is in my mouth. Seriously.

I’ve been a few times in the past 15 years and haven’t had any cavities, but did have to get one crown. In February, I bit a candy heart the wrong way and it cracked off a chunk of my tooth. It didn’t leave any residual pain, so I put off a visit to the dentist until a couple of weeks ago. Near the end of the appointment, unscathed, I shyly asked the dentist about my kids. I wanted to know how terrible it was that neither of them have had been to the dentist. Ever. He was wonderfully non-judgmental and told me that everything was fine – just to get them in soon.

Tuesday was the day. The kids were actually excited. We had read The Berenstein Bears Visit the Dentist a couple of hundred times and they were looking forward to seeing all the equipment. When they got there, however, things quickly changed. After much cajoling, Harrison got into the chair first. As soon as the hygienist started to lower the chair back, he freaked and I saw something in his eyes that I recognized. I remember the look well. It’s a fear I first saw when he was an infant and I would put him in an infant swing. That swing, guaranteed by our friends to cure his colic, just made Harry nauseous. He sat right up in the dental chair and there was no convincing him to stay in it. The hygienist had offered him sunglasses, to prevent the glare from the light from bothering him, but even that couldn’t keep him on his back. She quickly came up with Plan B. “Would you like to stand up, Harrison?” YES. That was the answer. It was quite the scene watching Harry stand, in his shades, getting his teeth “counted” and polished with Ella peering around the hygienist to watch every detail.

Ella did a little better. I’m sure it helped to be able to watch everything the first time through Harry’s experience. She chose to stay in the chair, but was cautious and shy about opening her mouth for the dentist. Plan C – sit on Mom’s lap.

The appointment ended with success. My children have all the teeth they are supposed to have and there were no cavities. My jaw was a little sore, though, from stretching it open every time one of the dental professionals asked my kids to open wide!

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