When Head Start started nagging us about finishing our enrollment paperwork, we got really anxious. The form for the doctor I could send in easily. It was the blue form that made me worry. The blue form was for the dentist.
Though four and a half and with one minor tooth injury, Simon had never been to the dentist. He balked at the doctor’s office, requiring cajoling, bribing, and major distracting to get him through a basic check up. He has spit on us, thrown his toothbrush at us, slapped, head-butted, and kicked us on occasions we’ve tried to brush his teeth or show him how to do it himself. And now we had to take him to the dentist, where he would have to lay back in a vestibularly uncomfortable way, have bright lights pointed at him, and loud, hard things shoved in his mouth. We hoped to get out of there without any one being bitten.
I made him a social story, and we got ready to break the news to him. Simon wept. And whined. And begged me not to “let” him go to the dentist. He threw his story. I left the story where he could get it and didn’t mention the D word again. As he remembered it, he would cry and whine all over again. Simon kept asking when he was going, so I wrote it on the calendar. April 9th, dentist.
One afternoon close to the big day, he was reviewing the calendar for his days off of school and paused on April 9th. I braced myself, ready to reassure and comfort. Simon turned to me and said, “the dentist has special tools. They aren’t scary. They tickle!” Almost word for word, he spouted a line from the social story. He was chipper. He even smiled. Despite my shock and delight, I stayed neutral, affirming the message. Simon gets very distressed when we’re too happy about a positive change in his behavior, so I had to wait until he was out of sight to have a little moment of victory.
The day arrived, and Simon willingly readied himself for the visit. He demanded he brush his teeth before his quiet time so that he wouldn’t miss the dentist. He asked impatiently on the drive where the dentist was. We walked in the doors, and he started looking for the waiting room and the exam room, as he remembered them from his little dentist book.
Despite momentary panic when the receptionist couldn’t find his appointment, then told us we’d been marked as no-shows before our appointment time even happened, we got called through door to the patient care area. An absolutely amazing dental hygienist met us and led Simon through a very successful visit. She was patient, calm, and upbeat, praising Simon for being big, brave, and a good listener. Praise he’ll take from an adult that is not his parent. He got anxious when she showed him the straw that sucks everything out of your mouth, and started to resist when she had him try it out. They moved on, and though his breathing was rapid, his body restless, and his little face tired and nervous, he had his teeth brushed and x-rays taken. At one point in the middle of the cleaning, he even said “I like this dentist occasion.” From weeping and begging to expressing fondness for the dentist office. This is one huge relief and major victory. We took our son to the dentist.
And yes, we turned in the blue form, and the Head Start office is satisfied.
Here is the text from our Dentist Social Story. I used Google Image Search to add images of everything mentioned in the story. I should have added the x-rays to the story, but I actually forgot they happen. Whoops!
Going to the Dentist
My Name is Simon Ham and I take care of my teeth.
I take care of my teeth by brushing my teeth every morning and every night. Another way I take care of my teeth is going to the dentist for a cleaning.
A cleaning does not hurt and makes my teeth extra clean so I don’t get cavities. My dentist office is called Willamette Dental.
In the Waiting Room
I will go in to the waiting room and check in. Someone will come to door and say “Simon.” It is my turn for the dentist. My parents can go with me.
The Dentist is a person that helps me take care of my teeth. There is a dental hygienist that helps the dentist. These people are nice and they take care of me. They wear masks over their mouth and nose to keep everyone healthy. It is not scary when the dentist wears a mask.
In the Exam Room
Exam means looks closely and check that things are right. In this room the dentist will check my teeth and clean them to help me keep my teeth healthy.
I will sit in a special dentist chair. This chair is fun! It goes up and down and it lies down and sits up.
When I sit in the dentist chair, the dentist will lay the chair back so I am lying down. I will see the bright dentist light.
If this light is too bright, I can close my eyes or put on my sunglasses.
In the dentist chair, I wear a special towel called a bib that will help me stay clean and dry.
I can wear a special blanket called an X-Ray blanket. It is heavy and it will help me feel good and calm. This will help me let the dentist clean my teeth well so that my teeth will be healthy. I take care of my teeth by going to the dentist.
When I am in the dentist chair, the dentist will ask me to open my mouth wide. It is important to keep my mouth open when the dentist tells me to. If I need to close my mouth because I feel scared, I can lift my hand up. This will tell the dentist to stop please.
The dentist will use special tools to look at and count my teeth. One tool is a tiny mirror! Other tools can help the dentist count my teeth. I can ask the dentist how many teeth I have.
Cleaning My Teeth
The dentist will use a tool to scrape my teeth. This might feel and sound funny. It might tickle. It does not hurt. I can raise my hand if I need to ask the dentist to stop.
I will keep my mouth open so the tools do not poke me. If I need to close my mouth I will raise my hand to ask the dentist to stop. When the dentist takes the tools out of my mouth, I can close my mouth and say what I need.
The dentist will brush my teeth. I keep my teeth clean by letting the dentist brush my teeth. It might tickle but it will not hurt. If I am scared or need to close my mouth I can raise my hand.
When I raise my hand the dentist will take the toothbrush out of my mouth.
It is important to let the dentist clean my teeth to keep my teeth healthy.
The dentist will rinse my mouth with a special tool that sprays water. It tickles!
The dentist will take the toothpaste and water out of my mouth with a special straw that sucks things out of my mouth. This tool sounds loud, but it is not scary and it does not hurt.
I take care of my teeth by brushing my teeth every morning and every night, and I take care of my teeth by going to the dentist.