Thursday, July 17, 2008

Spirit at the Dentist

Tuesday morning I heard Emma the Brave before I saw her. She was stomping elephant-style down the stairs from her room, alternately laughing and making a noise I've lovingly dubbed 'the most annoying sound on Earth.' I've often wondered if she was a banshee in a former life. In any case, this rush of unbridled spirit, when it presents itself so flagrantly at dawn, bodes of a day packed with the highest highs and lowest lows. I thanked my lucky stars that it was both sunny and summer and subsequently planned a day of hiking and swimming such that she could discharge without evoking her mother's rage. (Yes, rage, dear Reader. Remember, I am spirited, too.) We headed out the door soon after breakfast and were gone most of the day. Thankfully, by 8pm the banshee had left the building. Emma and Mighty Mouse were peacefully tucked into bed and I went soon after. It was a wonderful yet exhausting day.

Wednesday morning, Emma the Brave slipped into her seat at the kitchen table without a peep. She still had her blanket wrapped around her and her precious toy, Danny the dolphin, cuddled to her cheek.

I kissed her on the top the head. "Good morning, Sweet Pea," I said.

She didn't say anything. Instead Emma stared up at the chalk board that told the events of the day:
Dentist 10am.

Both Emma and Mighty Mouse had been to the dentist the previous week for a check-up and cleaning. Despite obvious anxiety, Emma the Brave lived up to her name, allowing all necessary procedures to be done with only a few tears. Mighty Mouse, not at all perturbed by bizarre instruments and noises--likely thanks to growing up with Emma--flew through her turn in the chair without so much as a whimper. Once finished, they each chose a little surprise from the dentist's drawer --twin packs of arrow-shaped Post-it notes--and headed for the door. That's when the dentist broke the news: Emma the Brave needed to come back to have the deep grooves in her adult teeth sealed. I understood the benefits of the procedure well, having undergone it myself. I made the appointment as its reality sunk into Emma beside me. She would have to come back--not next year, but next week. And now the day was upon us.

"I don't want to go to the dentist," she said, lying her head on the table.

I am wise enough at this stage of the game not to argue with such a statement. It was honest and not negotiable. She didn't want to go and nothing I could say would change that. Instead, I made her breakfast and reminded her that we would have lunch and a swim with her school friends, too.

After she'd eaten some toast and cereal, we moved to the living room where I told her step by step what was going to happen: she had four adult molars that would be first cleaned, then dried, and finally sealed. We talked about the instruments the dentist would use: the suction, the water pick and air blower, a scraping hook, a little electric tooth brush, and a purple light to harden the sealant. She asked how long it would take. I didn't know. We would have to save that question for the dentist. A bit more animated, she headed upstairs to get dressed.

An hour later she was in the dentist chair, pleading with her eyes at me to not make her go through with it. Tears streamed down her cheeks that were flushed with fear. As much I would have loved to spare her from the present procedure, I knew fillings were inevitable without it.

Five minutes in, I discovered that the process had changed somewhat from what I'd remembered-- and not for the better. The dentist took a thin sheet of elastic material, pierced it, then slipped it over the tooth in question, holding it in place with a metal ring. The material was then held taught by a wire that looped out of her mouth like the orthodontic headgears of old, all to keep the tooth as clean and dry as possible. It also had a bonus feature: the ability to send an already sensitive, and intense kid nearly over the edge.

For the next hour I ran a steady commentary on what was going on:
"She's cleaning the tooth now. It's all clean. Now she's drying it. Don't move. Take deep breaths, Sweetheart. That's it. Now she's putting on the sealant. You're doing really well. Here comes the light. Squeeze my hand if you need to or wiggle your feet. You are so brave, you really are! There, it's done. Good for you. Only three more to go."

Over and over I wished we were in Canada where dentist offices are equipped with televisions on the ceiling to distract even the most mature clients from the necessary evils of 'the chair.' It probably wouldn't have helped much, but I would have felt better with Dora on the ceiling. What did help was for Emma to know what was going on. She was even able to watch from time to time with a hand-held mirror. While she didn't have much choice in the matter, the knowledge of what was happening proved soothing.

When the fourth tooth was complete, everyone in the room sagged with relief--everyone except Emma, who bounded to the surprise drawer with newfound enthusiasm. She'd done it! We'd done it! I could hardly believe it. I peeked in the drawer, too, hoping there was a little something in it for me. A mini-bottle of bubbly? Some chocolate? A tranquilizer? No such luck. I looked up at the dentist, who was smiling at me.

"Good job, Mommy," she said.

I guessed that was the best I could hope for. As it was, I could sense the banshee returning as we walked to the car. Emma was happy and proud--and mine.


  1. High praise, indeed!

    Thank you for thinking of me. I thoroughly enjoyed your story. You truly capture your daughter’s wonderful spirit! Your dentist was correct – good job mom!

    Best wishes,

    Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

  2. Melissa.. she is pretty brave.

  3. She's strong! You've given her enough motivation to help her go through all the procedures. Sure, there were some tears, but at least she finished it all. =)