My story about my 4-year old brushing her teeth is bad. I couldn´t get her to brush or let me do it on a regular basis until recently. Given our mainstream diet, DNA and putting her to sleep after breastfeeding for 3 years without brushing teeth – key factors to getting cavities, the result is that she has now dealt with 6 cavities.
As one tooth started to hurt her, I took her to the dentist. She wasn´t keen on the idea, I can only imagine it was media, that made her afraid of the dentist.
There was one Pingu episode that came to my mind (it´s a penguin shivering at the thought of going to the dentist, even though later it all goes well). She saw it far too many times when she was 2-years old. I remember back then how it made me uncomfortable that she was watching it. But back then, when I bought the whole series for her, I needed the electronic babysitter for what I considered ¨just¨ one hour a day.
So I showed her this video (of a 4-year old kid relaxed through a cleaning) and it made her really excited about going. She said it looked like tickling and she wanted to do it.
The local dentist in our town asked me to take Luísa to a specialist – a dentist that works with children – in the city 2 hours away from our town (by bus) and so I did.
I called the specialist and made an appointment. I asked if she could convince 4-year olds to comply to being examined and she said yes.
¨Can you do it with many kids?¨
¨All of them¨.
¨Yes, but you have to cooperate too, if I ask you to wait outside, you do it¨
¨Do you have a TV?¨
I thought that the waiting outside was a bit odd, since I never left Luísa alone with a stranger before, but I wanted to believe it would be all fine.
We went there and the specialist started by bribing Luísa:
¨Luísa, come to watch a movie¨. She had asked me on the phone witch movie Luísa liked. Luísa was happy when she saw Madagascar on the lap top screen. Then Luísa sat on the chair and the specialist said: ¨I´ll give you two gifts if you do as I tell you¨. Luísa agreed.
I wasn´t comfortable with this method at all, but I thought it was ok to bribe her this once. I do it to cut her hair, which happens with a chocolate promise.
The specialist started well, she showed Luísa all the instruments. And she examined Luísa to find 6 cavities. One big one that hurt and 5 tiny.
The specialist told me: ¨Let´s just do the cleaning today¨.
But then, we made a bad decision (our worst decision came at the second appointment), we decided to treat the big cavity, since Luísa was doing so well, even smiling.
So the dentist asked her to close her eyes and then she gave her an injection with the anesthesia. Luísa got scared right away with the pain, but was still cooperating. The specialist gave her another injection that hurt and started working on the tooth. It hurt a lot. Luísa at this point didn´t want to go on, she was crying and scared and wanted to hold me.
I was hating it too. All that was told to Luísa was a painless cleaning and now we were doing the painful work without any warning, just on the assumption that the quickest we did it, the better.
Now the specialist gave Luísa one of the gifts and kept on working.
Things got bad because the anesthesia didn´t work right away. I think she got about 4-5 shots.
Luísa was horrified, didn´t want to be there, wanted to hold me as the specialist started to speak rough to her. The specialist warned me: ¨I´m sorry, I´m going to have to be hard on her¨ and then: ¨We learn this at the university¨ (she meant the coercion practice).
The specialist went on talking about the other gift. Luísa wasn´t having any of it. Luísa said she didn´t want any gift, she just wanted to never see her again.
The specialist asked me to leave the room so she could work. At that point, I knew my presence was making it harder for Luísa to bear everything, but at the thought of me leaving the room, Luísa got REALY scared.
We were in a hurry to make things happen. We had to persuade her, or more accurately intimidate her.
We tried again and nothing. The doctor once again asked me to ¨cooperate¨ by leaving the room and so I did. We went for the full on intimidation tool: taking a child´s mom away.
I felt so crushed. I NEVER left Luísa with a stranger before, (leaving her with someone we recently met for an hour playing at the beach for me to surf is another story). But at that point, I couldn´t do anything else, we had to have that tooth covered.
Once I was out of the room, it only took like 20 seconds for Luísa to ¨cooperate¨ (read: obey).
At the end, she offered Luísa the second gift and Luísa didn´t want it. I took it myself. She asked Luísa what she would like her to bring as a gift next time and Luísa got more pissed off at the idea of receiving any gifts and of being reminded that she would have to be back there.
The second dentist appointment (can things get worse then this?)
The night before our second appointment to the dentist, Luísa complained of pain in that tooth that was half treated.
It meant the cavity wasn´t completely taken care of. And we wouldn´t just cover it like it was planned, I knew we would have to open it once again.
I told her right away the truth, that it meant the cavity wasn´t all treated and surely she would have to take an anesthesia to get it open again. I told her I´d be there and she could squeeze my hand and let us know when it hurt, but that she would have to do it.
I won´t bribe her for doctor´s appointments
Luísa had been asking for some dancing shoes too. I told her we could buy them when we went to the dentist at the city. I thought about getting the shoes after the appointment and use it to make her comply, but I don´t want to bribe my daughter to do what she has to do, she is smart enough to see the manipulation going on, so I told her:
¨The shoes have nothing to do with the dentist. They are a gift I want to give you. We will buy them first and then we go and do what we have to do at the dentist.¨
When we arrived at the specialist, I liked her more. She was more businesslike. She wasn´t offering a movie or toys, she was just being a plain dentist.
The only wise thing we did was to start off with one of the small cavities that didn´t hurt at all, so Luísa would see that the little ones were easy to take care of.
Then, the specialist went on to work on the big cavity again. Luísa got some shots, started to cry a bit but was taking it all, even though scared after she spat some blood.
But, now I know, working on the big cavity again knowing that it hurt was a bad decision because it was infected. We should have used antibiotics first and treated her later.
This meant that the anesthetic wasn´t doing much effect, Luísa kept feeling the pain when the drill would touch the bottom of the tooth.
Luísa was so scared that at one point she was trembling. She would scream even when the specialist was touching another tooth.
The specialist seemed more humane this time, though. She would say stuff like ¨I know that this hurts¨. She finally said that it was too much for Luísa to bare and she would use the white thing again to cover it up.
There it came the painful thing again. This time, the specialist accessed more Luísa´s feelings, she at least said:
¨I know this hurts a lot. I´m sorry¨.
The specialist knew that we wouldn´t finish the job that day. She prescribed an antibiothic and antiinflamatory.
Later that day, it started to swell and hurt. The next morning, half of Luísa´s face was swollen and it still hurt.
The following morning, it was even more swollen, Luísa´s eye was almost closed, like if stung by a bee.
I was scared of the swollen face, in fact, when I looked at Luísa, I got up and went to cry outside, before she woke up. I even called my sister in Brazil to vent.
I was not happy about Luísa taking antibiotics (this was her first time in her life), but now I just wanted stronger drugs for my girl.
The specialist prescribed a stronger antibiotic, antiinflamatory and corticoid to be taken in 3 shots. It was another little torture session for Luísa, but after that, in two days she was fine.
The specialist decided that we had pull out that tooth on our next appointment.
I told Luísa that right away. We operate on total honesty here.
She mentioned the ¨Raton Perez¨, which is the local tale about kids leaving their teeth under the pillow for the rat to switch it for a coin.
Third time is a charm
To finish the traumatic experience (she will probably fear dentists for ever), we went for the extraction.
This time, when she sat on the chair, she was very much scared and tears were rolling down. She wouldn´t let the specialist touch her so much and she would try to hug and cling on to me.
The specialist told me to leave the room.
Once more, I was crushed at the waiting room, hearing Luísa complain, but definitely, I heard the silence too and could tell that she was letting the dentist do what was needed.
It was quite fast without me being at her side. And this time it was painless (except for 2 anesthetic shots).
Luísa was not happy about it. She kept saying later:
¨I´m not the same anymore, I want to be like before.¨ and ¨Why did she had to pull my tooth out¿¨
Now I lied too
I hate lying. I almost cannot do it. But this time, Luísa told me the story of the Perez rat leaving a coin under the pillow for the tooth, so I went on with it.
I considered spoiling the fun and not playing the rat, because I couldn´t picture her in the future coming home one day, angry because I´ve been lying all these years about the Perez rat.
I really don´t understand why parents come up with the Santa Claus farce, and the rat is just the same shit.
But I prepared myself for that day already. I´ll explain to her that in that moment, the fantasy really served well to alleviate her pain and worries because she was too little to go through so much.
At night, I was the rat, and the next morning, Luísa was thrilled to find a coin.
The fourth visit went smoothly with the specialist taking care of the last 3 small cavities without anesthesia. I could stay by Luísa´s side this time, since she was threatened from the beginning about ¨behaving well, or mama would have to wait outside¨. She decided to ¨behave¨.
We ¨only¨ have to go twice again. One time to put a space maintainer and another to check if it´s alright.
For the parents out there who think pulling out a milk tooth is no big deal, know that it´s not like that. Without the milk tooth in place, the permanent tooth might come down in a wrong position, thus making the child´s teeth bad aligned and probably needing to use braces later on.
And if you read this far (thank you), let me give you two pieces of advice if you haven´t taken your child to the dentist yet:
1. Take your child to do a cleaning way before you can suspect of cavities, so she will have a fun first experience. If she is scared of doing that, try showing you tube videos with small children doing it.
2. If your child needs the dentist and has a dad, let him take her. If not, try another close caregiver that is not the mom. It was clear that my presence was not helping at all. Children can sense the mother´s feelings (and possibly the thoughts too), and I was just as scared or even more scared than Luísa.
Now, just out curiosity, if you see private dentist, could you share here how much you spend on it in dollars? This is a hell of a privileged thing.
In Puerto Viejo de Talamanca – Costa Rica, the dentist charges US$40 per cavity and US$40 per cleaning.
In Limón – Costa Rica, the dentists we saw, charges US$50 per cavity and US$30 per cleaning.
**UPDATE** I forgot to publish right away a link worth looking with this story. Here it goes: How I healed my child´s cavity