Today all four kids had to make their biannual pilgrimage to see their pediatric dentist. Our dentist is absolutely wonderful. She has a team who dress in bright, fun scrubs. The kids get loads of stickers, new toothbrushes and toothpaste, little dentist mirrors in fun colors, and toys from the treasure chest. Our dentist explains things to the kids, and makes the visit as reassuring and fun as possible.
Having said that, visits to the dentist cause a lot of anxiety in our kids, and therefore a lot of symptoms of their diagnoses rear their heads. This has forced me to be a strong advocate for the kids and their special needs.
During one visit a couple years ago, Jonah (who was probably about 7 at the time) was having a lot of vocal tics. He was in the dentist’s chair, and a hygienist was cleaning his teeth. Jonah was ticking a lot, and it was worse because he was nervous. He made grunting and growling sounds as the hygienist worked on his mouth. To my horror, the hygienist started teasing Jonah about his noises, and not in a fond, fun sort of way. I sat across the room from Jonah’s chair, stunned into shock. It was one of the first times I had to figure out how to deal with the outside world in relation to my child’s disability. I knew I had to make a decision- whether or not to intervene. In the midst of my shock, I decided that it would cause Jonah more stress and embarrassment if I boldly, publicly, told the hygienist about Jonah’s Tourette Syndrome, than if I just carefully watched to make sure Jonah was ok and let the conversation blow over. As I assessed the situation as only a Mama Bear can, with every fiber of my being ready to pounce if I saw my little boy become upset, I could tell Jonah was not too bothered by the hygienist’s comments. Still, I sat at alert, guarding my boy as he got his teeth cleaned.
The next time the kids had a checkup, I went into proactive mode. I called the dentist prior to the appointment. I told them what had happened the last time, how the hygienist had been teasing Jonah about his vocal tics in a way that made me uncomfortable. I explained each of my children’s special needs. I requested that the staff be told about my kids’ needs, and I was assured that my kids would be handled with care and sensitivity. Since that uncomfortable visit years ago, I remind the dentist’s office before each visit of my kids’ special needs, and we have not had any problems since. Even though I was about to go off the deep end when I heard the comments that were made to Jonah years ago, I realized that Mama Bear sometimes needs to reel in the stunned anger and deal with problems in a more appropriate, professional way. I knew if I handled it that way, I would be heard and understood.
Although our dentist visits are much smoother these days, there are still things that drive me crazy. My older two boys have severe sensory issues regarding their mouths, and they have since they were born. Brushing teeth for them has always been pure torture. We do our best, me pushing them to brush as often as I can, them resisting with ferocious anger and fear. We’ve worked on toothbrushing in OT for years. We’ve tried everything we can think of to make this skill easier for Ben and Jonah. But it hasn’t gotten better.
Now the boys have braces on their top teeth, which makes matters worse. Every single time they’re seen by their orthodontist or dentist, we ALL get the lecture about better oral hygiene. And every visit, I explain AGAIN about the boys’ SPD, and how we’re doing the absolute best that we can. I have always felt like such a failure because my boys won’t brush their teeth! I know it’s nuts, but it just makes me feel like the worst mom on Earth. For years, I thought that it must somehow be my fault that my boys fought tooth (no pun intended) and nail about brushing their teeth. Until I had my last two babies. Aidan and Ella have no problem whatsoever with toothbrushing. They got glowing reports today at the dentist about their oral hygiene after our lecture on Ben and Jonah’s infected gums. So, ha! It can’t be totally my fault that my older boys loathe toothbrushing, because my younger two are fine with it! I love when that happens- when some of my kids prove to me that I’m not totally the problem and I am in fact doing an ok job of being Mom.
The other issue today was that Aidan, although he is 6 1/2, insisted on sitting on my lap for his dental exam. This was fine with the staff, but many comments were made about Aidan being a big boy- big enough to sit on his own in the dentist chair. And how next time he comes, surely he’ll be able to sit by himself! I’m sure the dentist’s team were trying to encourage Aidan and give him confidence, but it gets irritating. The kid has a host of issues: SPD, anxiety, tics, to name a few. If he needs to sit on Mommy’s lap at the dentist, I’m ok with that. I felt like saying “I’m sure Aidan won’t be sitting on my lap here when he’s 23, so how about if we just let it go??” Give the kid a break. If we make through the dentist checkup, I’m happy, no matter how we make it through. If Aidan needs to sit on my lap and if Ella needs to cry the whole time, fine. We still made it through.
So many times I’m surprised at the places or situations that I have to advocate for my children. When I had babies, I never thought about how I’d have to explain their special needs to a dentist someday. Or to the lady who cuts their hair when I’m too tired to do it. Or to their Sunday School teacher. It’s interesting to realize how much we do advocate for our kids across every area of their lives. We make sure their world is as safe and comfortable for them as possible, which means spreading education about their special needs to all the pieces of the world that our kids touch. The only way to gain understanding and acceptance for our kids, in my humble opinion, is through education.
When we return to the dentist for our next checkup, I can guarantee you nothing will be different than it was today. I will remind the staff of my kids’ special needs. We will still get the oral hygiene lecture. Aidan will probably still insist on sitting on my lap. And Ella will no doubt cry the whole time, and then obsess the rest of the afternoon about how she “did NOT like that dentist.” But no matter how we make it through the appointment, as long as we make it through, Mama Bear will be happy.