The Dentist

When my children were younger I wrote a weekly column, “Modern Parenting” for The Pembroke Observer newspaper. Being a stay-at-home dad was rare in our small town in 1991; people wanted to hear about my adventures. When I started this blog I promised to republish some of those old pieces, then I got sidetracked. 

 Today I’m revisiting one of the articles that I think has stood the test of time. Or at least is a change of pace. I don’t intend to do much in the way of editing, but may make the odd comment in italics. This post was first published August 2, 1992.

My fear is gone, a fear Paul will never experience.

He had his first trip to the dentist not that long ago, a fun-filled excursion completely different from what I remember from my youth.

I’m sure the dentist my parents took me to had 19th century equipment and delighted in torturing children. Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but it did hurt and I didn’t look forward to the trip.  (My mother insists I was never a patient of a dentist using such antiquated equipment. She does admit however that my description does remind her of the family dentist when I was very young.)

Things improved as I got older and we switched to a dentist with more modern equipment and a more child-friendly attitude. But that first one left me with an understanding as to why some people would rather let their teeth rot out than visit a dentist.

Paul’s visit was just like any other outing.  We’d prepared for it the day before, telling him he was going to go visit the dentist, who would count his teeth. All the next day he was asking if it was time to go.

Actually it wasn’t his first visit; he doesn’t remember the first time. On that occasion Vivian and I both had appointments back to back, the idea being that whoever wasn’t in the chair would look after Paul, then aged 18 months.

It didn’t quite work out that way, as things ran behind schedule and she had to leave for work before I got into the chair.  So I had my dental examination with Paul perched in my lap, very curious as to the whole procedure. When he was asked later in the day by Vivian what I had been doing in the chair, he opened his mouth as wide as possible. I hope I really didn’t look that funny.

This time we arrived in the office and he made a beeline for the toys, playing happily while I filled out the inevitable forms that go with a first visit. I’d barely completed them and picked up a magazine when the dentist arrived asking, “Is this Paul?”

Paul happily responded to the invitation to go and see the treats kept for children, a veritable treasure trove of balls, airplanes, police badges and other trinkets.  Not to mention lollipops and gum, sugarless of course.  Paul was told he could have his pick, after the dentist had looked at his teeth.

Then it was in to the examination room, and Paul was invited to climb into the chair.  He was given a stuffed dog to hold, a new acquisition christened “Frosty” earlier in the day by another three-year-old. Then it was time to ride the chair, to get Paul’s head into position for the examination. He enjoyed the ride, then tried to sit up, until I explained he had to be lying down so the dentist could look at his teeth.

He was given a mirror to hold, so he too could see what was happening in his mouth. He was told the dentist would then count his teeth. The dentist examined them too, checking for cavities, though Paul didn’t know that. The whole exam lasted maybe five minutes, and we were told to come back in six months for a thorough cleaning.

His choice of reward afterward?  Gum.  I didn’t know he knew what gum was.

It was definitely a successful visit. The idea, Vivian and I had been told beforehand, was to make the child’s first visit to the dentist a pleasant experience, something that pays dividends in the years to come. Remembering how much I used to look forward to dental treatment, I can see the wisdom of such a policy. I’m sure Paul will be excited when it’s time for the next visit.

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