(Re: July 2011)
Pediatric dentists want to see babies when the first tooth appears, but the first visit is not to be completed by the first birthday. They will make sure everything is developing properly and quiz the parents about whether the child is put to bed with his bottle. It also begins to establish a familiarity with the process. Most people, including my dentist, recommend taking a child to the dentist for the first time around age three, because by then he has all of his teeth.
I scheduled an appointment for Liam shortly after his third birthday. We didn’t go. Liam had been sick and was a crank, and I didn’t think that would be the greatest timing. I scheduled another appointment shortly after Liam’s fourth birthday. I had to cancel that one because it was the same day as his early intervention evaluation. Then I was just plain terrified. I was certain that Liam would melt down at the dentist. All of the smells, sounds, lights, tools, and hygienists talking in their best “kid voices” who mean well, but in would freak out my kid in their attempts at being “fun”.
Liam’s fifth birthday went by, and six months of ABA therapy went by. We’ve all learned a lot about sensory inputs and how Liam responds. We’ve had some success desensitizing him in some cases. Fro instance, I can cut his hair in one sitting instead of three. He still doesn’t like it, but he lets me get the job done. I still don’t think I could take him somewhere, but probably wouldn’t anyway!
No five year old should go without a visit to the dentist, especially one whose mother has HORRIBLE teeth. I located a dentist who has experience with autism, and more important, will tailor their approach to make every kid comfortable. I filled out all of the paperwork and told all of Liam’s secrets. I scheduled another appointment – this one we were keeping. No matter what.
I started preparing.
I bought books to read to Liam. We talked about going to the dentist and what would happen. We Googled pictures of people at the dentist so he wouldn’t expect everything to be exactly like Dora’s or Spongebob’s accounts. We practiced opening wide and counting his teeth. We talked about the big chair that moves, the light, the sink, the tools, the sounds, and the new toothbrush at the end. A month later, Liam was excited. We were as ready as possible.
When the long anticipated day finally arrived, we went in and were greeted by a welcoming décor – part tiki hut, part tropical rainforest. We waited only a few minutes and were called back. They led us to a private exam room. Liam explored everything. He pointed to things and told us what everything was and what it was for. The hygienist smiled at me and said, “You’ve been getting ready for this for a while, yes?” Yes. You have no idea. Yes.
Once Liam had adequately checked everything out, the hygienist asked him to climb into the chair. He hopped right up. She moved Liam up and down a few times, then leaned him back. She turned the light on and of and gently angled it so as not to shine it in his eyes. She let him taste the toothpaste and see the spinning toothbrush. She turned on the toothbrush and touched it. He touched it. She didn’t think it was weird that he rubbed his cheek on it. Then she began. She was perfect. She let him call all of the shots, stopping when he needed a break, giggling at how his tongue kept getting in the way. The dentist came in and was equally perfect with Liam.
I was impressed at the ability of the entire staff to be so accommodating, I was certain that this would be a horrible experience and was ready for the daddy of all meltdowns. I was SO relieved that this went so well.
And Liam. LIAM. He was so awesome. I learned that with enough of the right preparation, we can get through anything.