07 March 2011

Trying to Fill the Cavity of Anxiety

I took Five to the dentist on Friday. We've spoken about Five's nervous nature, which is really just a polite way of saying that kid's got the anxiety gene, and it's just a matter of time before he goes on medication.  We've known this about him since kindergarten, when he used to come home upset because his teacher had yelled at him for not finishing his work. We've known Mrs. N for ten years, and not once have I heard her raise her voice above a pleasant, lulling, tone. So, we had an inkling his emotional perception might be a little  off. But he's gotten better since kindergarten, so we haven't given up hope that we might avoid some of the issues we've previously encountered with One, or Three.

Five has a cavity. It's a tiny one, on the side of a molar he will  not lose for about another three or four years. We figured we'd fill it, so the tooth wouldn't cause him any pain. He was fairly accepting about what was going to happen, and we both agreed that he should be "asleep" for the process. Afterward, we would go to Walgreen's and look for a new Beanie Boo, as a reward. When we got him in the chair, the first thing he noticed was the tray of medical instruments behind him. Yes, the kid-friendly dental office, with it's jungle motif, and walls covered with pictures of puppies and bunnies, didn't think it smart to cover the tray of needles and metallic instruments of torture. We were not off to a good start.

The young, female dentist came in and showed Five a picture of his cavity, and asked him what flavor he wanted for his laughing gas. He didn't really understand, so she showed him the "elephant nose" he would wear to inhale the chocolate scented gas. She went to put the mask on him, and he hopped up right out of that chair and ran to the opposite side of the room. It takes a minute for the chocolate scent to pump through the mask, and that was just enough time for the claustrophobia to take effect.

Have you ever seen someone have a panic attack? I'm sure they're different for everyone, but Five's looked a lot like Three's. I used to have to drag Three from the car to get him to go to school, and finally, it just became impossible, because that adrenaline would get flowing, and he was super-human strong. It was amped avoidance.

Poor Five was across the room, saying "Wait, wait, wait, I just need to..." and then he noticed a scale, "weigh Bamboo before I can sit down." Anything to delay what was going to happen. At that point I knew it was a lost cause, because he'd become irrational. I had to pick him up to get him back in the chair, and I brought the scale with me so he could weigh Bamboo in his lap, but as soon as that mask came back around, he twisted and buried his face in my chest.

The dentist asked if Five might respond better to  Dr. M, the male dentist. But this is the kid that thought Mrs. N, "The Kindergarten Whisperer," was yelling, so I didn't think Dr. M's authoritarianism was going to get the job done.
"Is he often like this?" she asked.
"Well, getting him here is always a challenge," I answered.
"Does his nervousness affect his schooling?"
"Yes, but he's getting better."
"Because if it's affecting him in school, you might want to talk to his pediatrician," she offered.
"Oh, she knows," I said. "We're just waiting to see how it all turns out."
In the end, we decided one little cavity wasn't worth the pain and suffering. If it gets huge, we'll yank it. Under sedation. If it doesn't bother him, eventually that sucker is going to fall out anyway.

When Five got in the van he asked if we were going to Walgreen's. I reminded him that he didn't actually have the cavity filled, which was our deal.
"But at least I was brave, and came here without crying," he said.
"True that," I answered.
He has made progress. We set off to buy Clover. Maybe we don't know how it's going to turn out, after all.


  1. Anonymous7.3.11

    These challenges are so damn ...challenging! Good luck to you both. I've said it before, this is survivable.

  2. Oh my poor Five. He was brave and you were his champion once again. I know these things are hard on him but they are also hard on his mom. I remember that well. Hugs to you both.

  3. Anonymous7.3.11

    Dentists are scary enough for the bravest of us, I can still feel the pain just thinking about it. Well done, Five for making progress and getting that far.

  4. I am thinking YOU deserve a treat for calmly comforting your child in the face of dental assistants who question your parenting.

    Hello? Cover the instruments with a stripey cloth. Call the mask Mr. Happy Nose and stick a clown nose on it. I've seen it done. It is not rocket science.

    If the tooth hurts, slap some anbesol on it and save him the terror.

  5. Megan that was so reminiscent of one of my experiences with number 3. It was school picture day in preschool-- his first ever-- and he was in phase where he did not like attention on him. Our theory was this was related to his delay in speech and his frustration at not being able to respond to people, so he would just bury his head in my shoulder. I knew this was going to be a challenge, and I was there with him to help him through. I even had a special toy waiting at home for him if he was brave. We tried everything, and in the end we got a precious photo of him hiding his face in his Silky blanket. As we left the school [him relieved, me a little frustrated and disappointed], he suggested that "we go home and take a picture, then can I have my toy?" I thought this was an impressively creative solution on his part, so he did get his toy and he let me set up a backdrop and photograph him to my heart's content. I still have that school photo and it's very precious.

  6. Kudos to you, mom, for not responding to the dentist's, "Is he always like this?" With, "Well, he does have some anxiety issues, which are not being helped by the uncovered Tray of Terror over there. So thanks for that." You are a much stronger woman than I.

  7. Yes, all, the Tray of Terror was a huge misstep on their part. Also, there have been studies that prove that providing GameBoy, or Nintendo DS, to pediatric ER patients greatly diminishes their anxiety. The kids' brains are occupied elsewhere. I'm thinking some big screen televisions would do the trick in the dental office. We visited a dentist once who had one, and Two didn't even notice that the doctor had pulled his stubborn tooth. Let's use technology to our advantage, people!

    The dentist recommended we try again in three months. We could practice at home, modeling what was going to happen. I think I'm just going to wait for the tooth to fall out. Two outgrew some of his anxiety (we can actually give him a flu shot now), so there's hope for Five.

  8. Hey Meg, here's an alternative: A friend of mine just painted star wars murals on a dentist's office in Montclair. Maybe you should change dentists? They're really amazing [Princess Leia as the Tooth Fairy]. LOL

  9. @Chrysanthe: I think they should take it one step further, and wear the costumes. Female dentist could be Leia, or that new, annoying one, Amidala, and male dentist could be Luke. The nitrous could be administered through a Darth Vader mask!

    We should do this. Now all we need is a dentist.


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