August 19, 2011
By Ekta R. Garg
One of the fascinating things about parenting is watching your children enjoy an experience for the first time. We undergo so many firsts in our lives that it isn’t humanly possible to remember every single one, and so parents have the pleasure of living through those firsts with their children.
Of course some of those firsts get dragged into long-term experiences (potty training, anyone?), but many of those firsts can actually turn into pleasant and even wondrous events.
Yesterday we had a first: Five and Three went to the dentist. Neither had ever made the trip before, and although I knew taking care of their teeth was an inevitable part of their total healthcare I also dreaded their first visit. I just didn’t know how they’d react.
My own reaction to the dentist is one of mild irritation mixed with resignation. It’s no fun to sit in a chair with your mouth pried open for almost an hour while someone pokes, prods, and scrubs at your teeth. Yet dental health requires as much serious consideration as the rest of our body does, and as I’ve noted before in this column these are the formative years for my children’s good habits. If I help them form those habits now, they’re more likely to stick with those habits later.
So once we got settled here in Salt Lake, I decided to take a deep breath and make an appointment. And I’m so glad now I did.
Before I say anything else, I’ll give you the punch line. The girls’ visit went incredibly smoothly with no tantrums, no resistance, and no crying. I’m proud of both my girls but especially of Three. Five has reached a level of communication where she and I can discuss almost anything and I can make her understand my point.
But Three is still—well, she’s still little. And she’s my baby. She’ll always be my baby, whether she’s three or thirty-three. So I try to be extra-careful with her; I try to go out of my way to make sure she’s comfortable. And even though I tell people she’s my firecracker, sometimes Three can get a little anxious about new situations.
In anticipation of that anxiety, I did with Five and Three what I’ve always done when we’re approaching something out of our normal routine. After making the appointment a few weeks ago, I began talking to both girls about what going to the dentist meant. I answered all of their questions and reassured them that going to the dentist could be fun. Secretly I hoped that would be the case.
I think talking to them helped. Discussing the dentist visit before it happened at frequent intervals made it a part our life, and yesterday as I finished washing dishes after lunch, Three came into the kitchen and asked in a sing-song voice full of anticipation, “Hey, Mom, where are we going today?”
“We’re going to the dentist!”
“Yea! We’re going to the dentist!”
And the mood for the visit was set.
Talking to the girls placed expectations high for a positive visit. The second thing I believe made a difference was choosing a dentist who solely treats children. The atmosphere around a pediatric dentist’s office, I discovered, is different. Everyone, from the hygienists to the receptionist to the dentist himself, treated the girls with the utmost of respect and care and a regard that proved they knew how to put children at ease.
When we arrived at the office and completed the formalities, the hygienist gave us a short tour of the office and took us to the bay where the girls would sit a short distance away from one another. Five hopped into the chair and smiled from ear to ear as the hygienist began discussing with her the specifics of “taking pictures” of teeth. Three watched with interest and didn’t hesitate when the first hygienist finished with Five and her own name was called for X-rays.
The stroke of genius came, however, when the hygienists made the girls’ chairs recline for their cleanings and exams. On the ceiling above each chair was a TV screen, and the hygienists played a movie of choice for both kids. Because they’re sisters and so close in age, both Five and Three chose to watch Tangled. Soon both girls had headphones on their ears, sunglasses on to protect their eyes, and were chuckling as Rapunzel and Pascal made their way out of the tower.
The movie provided the girls with the distraction they needed so they wouldn’t focus so much on the specifics of the cleaning, and the hygienists were skilled enough to move smoothly from one aspect of the cleaning to the next. The girls were calm and had no problem letting the dentist examine their teeth, counting them and checking for any decay or cavities. Happily, both girls got a clean bill on both accounts, and they didn’t hesitate to let the hygienists finish with a special veneer to protect their teeth.
After collecting brand new toothbrushes, floss for Five, and special prizes from the “Prize Tower,” both girls chattered happily about their experience. Fortunately they had a positive one, and I made the appointment for their six-month checkup without hesitation.
In six months, I know, they’ll be a little older, probably a little taller, and even more comfortable with life here in our new town. Along with all that, they’ll also be amenable to continuing their dental care. I’m so relieved and excited about that last thought. It makes me wish fervently for more smooth firsts.