A Positive Story About My Two Year Old’s Cavities

March 26, 2014 at 11:59 am 4 comments

Last month I found out that my son, who’s barely been on this planet for 31 months and has had teeth for even less than that, had cavities. Two cavities, in fact. The dentist didn’t point any fingers, but I believe we were too lenient with juices and extended use of the sippy cup.

But believe it or not, this is a positive tale! I share it in case anything we did would be of value to other parents or ease their concerns.

An Affection for the Dentist
The first time my son visited the dentist, he was about 22 months old. Everything checked out fine, but the appointment itself was not smooth. The whole thing was scary to him, he didn’t want to open his mouth, tears were shed.

Now granted, he was older for his second check up. But we also approached it a little differently. In the days leading up to his appointment, I talked him through what was going to happen and we “practiced.” He would open his mouth and I would look at and poke his teeth.

Walking into the dentist office for his appointment I asked Sagan, “Are you scared?”

“I’m not scared!” he announced.

Yeah, right I thought, We’ll see about that.

But sure enough, Sagan’s assessment was accurate. He was not scared. When it came time for his check up, what a difference! I was mentally prepared for crying and screaming, but this time, I had an inquisitive, agreeable little boy who enjoyed everything from start to finish. The “flash light” (the light above him) and the “sucker” (the tool that sucks saliva out of your mouth) were his favorite parts. He even sat still for X-rays.

Sagan Dentist - February 25 - Getting Examined
Getting Examined

Sagan Dentist - February 25 - Still Liking the Sucker
Love That Sucker

Sagan Dentist - February 25 - X-Rays

So the process of the appointment was wonderful, but the outcome was less than ideal. My little boy had two cavities. He was going to need to have some fillings. I would spend the next week ferociously researching on the Internet at which point I would discover that I am a callous, unfeeling mother. A lot of the mothers on the Internet talked about sobbing right there in the dentist office when they found out their child had cavities. Whoops. It never occurred to me to cry at the dentist office, but that also meant Sagan had no cue from me to get upset himself. I would have plenty of guilt-ridden moments later, in the middle of the night, watching my peaceful son sleep and thinking about how he would have decidedly un-peaceful moments ahead.

But back to the story. The dentist typically sedates young children for their fillings, but my little boy is actually too little. 1.8 pounds too little. They don’t sedate children until they are 30 pounds. So the dentist, we’ll call her Dentist A, said she would be using a “papoose board” which would hold him down so he couldn’t flail around next to the sharp instruments.

“Okay,” I said, “Is there anything we should practice to prepare him?”

Dentist A looked at me and blinked. “No. This is very traumatic for the children. You shouldn’t practice.”

Wait… traumatic?

She must have read my mind because she quickly added on, “All most children remember is the toy afterwards.”

I’m Going to Traumatize My Child For His Entire Life
So alone at home, I did have some emotions and worries. I was particularly saddened by how much fun Sagan had at the dentist and how now he was most certainly going to hate it. I really did feel like I was about to traumatize my child for life.

My worries were reinforced the very next day when Sagan got a shot at the pediatrician office. He cried and cried and cried and he talked about how “the doctor gave [him] a needle ouchie” for weeks. Weeks!

Papoose Board Research
After I got home, that’s when the ferocious Internet research began and like most everything, there are a lot of horror stories. I talked to two parents who had to have their children in papoose boards. Both of the parents had a negative opinion of the papoose board. One parent even told me the papoose board changed her son’s personality.

But then… I talked to two adults who had actually been in papoose boards when they were very young. Sagan’s uncle was in a papoose board when he was three.

“You know, I keep being told I was in a papoose board, but I don’t remember it at all.”

My cousin also had multiple encounters with a papoose board when she was young. She didn’t find the papoose board traumatic and she was sure “[your son] will do fine.”

Among all the horror stories on the Internet, I did find a lone outlier– a mother who said she prepared her daughter and told her the papoose board was going to give her a tight “hug.” She sat and talked with her daughter during the procedure and it went well. That was uplifting to read. The survey results for this study were uplifting as well. The papoose board was not a unanimously awful thing.

With my reading, I had a series of questions, I called over to the dentist and asked away.

Dentist Questions
An Excerpt of my Questions and Notes

This was actually really helpful, because I confirmed I could be in the room with him, I learned more about the procedure, I learned how open they were to me soothing my child, and…. interestingly enough, they told me that my son’s appointment was with a different dentist, we’ll call her Dentist B, and that Dentist B doesn’t go for the papoose board right away.

“If your child gets in the seat all by himself, we may not even need it.”

Well dude. As agreeable as Sagan was last time and how he kept talking about wanting to go to the dentist again, I had no means to think he wouldn’t be agreeable this time.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Despite what Dentist A recommended, I decided we were going to practice. I know how my mind works and in anxious situations, I like to know what expect. I like to know what’s going to happen. So the next two weeks, we practiced the dentist every day. I did tell Sagan about the possibility of the papoose board.

“They’ll make a Sagan Burrito,” I’d tell him, which he kinda liked. We are a big burrito-eating family.

“You won’t be able to move your hands.” I’d hold down his hands. “Is that scary?”

“No!” He’d smile.

“Also you won’t be able to move your head. Is that scary?”

“No!!!” he’d reply.

I told him they would be putting in something to hold his mouth open. I’d pretend to wipe a topical on his gums. I told him how the novocaine was going to make his mouth feel really funny.

“And you’ll tawwwlk wik dis,” I’d say and he’d laugh.

We’d practice drilling and rinsing and putting the filling in. We did this at least once a day. Sometimes he would remind me of the next step.

“Don’t forget the drill, Mommy! The drill!”

Presence of Both Parents
Sagan is very attached to his father. Ryan took a half-day from work to be there for the fillings as well. This was a great move as in the middle of the procedure, Sagan asked, “Daddy?” and Ryan was able to say, “I’m right here.”

Just like what I found with labor, there is something just soothing about Ryan’s mere presence. : )

So get this. After all my research and planning and practicing, Sagan got his cavities filled…with no papoose board and no trauma! Here’s a quick shot of him getting his fillings in.

Sagan Dentist - March 12 - Getting Fillings
Sagan Gets Fillings

Take a close look at his hands. They’re free! No one had to hold his hands down, let alone put him in a papoose board!!! Go Sagan!

Now, all our practice couldn’t have hurt, but I think the true hero of this story is Dentist B. She was amazing. Every step of the way, she would show Sagan the equipment, explained what it would do, and even let him play with. Then she was very patient with the drilling and only did a little at a time.

Near the end of the filling process, Sagan did whimper a bit, but man, that little boy kept his composure. I had worried I would be traumatizing my little boy for life and instilling in him a fear of the dentist. But he wasn’t even traumatized for even a few minutes!

And Sagan keeps talking about wanting to go BACK to the dentist again and he’s been playing dentist with his little brother.

So some quick morals of the story:

  1. Make sure you have that comfort level with your provider. Just like with your OB/GYN and childbirth, ask questions if you have them. If needed, switch providers until you find one that you are comfortable with.
  2. Remember– the Internet is FULL of horror stories. People on the Internet hate everything. So just because you read a horror story, does not necessarily mean you can’t have a positive experience.
  3. I have a small sample size, but I do believe practicing and communication helps. Knowledge is power!
  4. I also believe children take cues from their parents. Stay calm and collected.
  5. Finally, it is entirely possible for two year olds to get fillings without sedation and without papoose boards.

Entry filed under: Dentist, Parenting, Uncategorized.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. bestsacramentodentist  |  March 26, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    You provided great tips for parents. Not many parents prepare their children for what to expect on their first visit. Looks like your son had an enjoyable, non-fearful time at the dentist.

  • 2. tgaw  |  March 27, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks Dr. Truong!

  • 3. narami  |  May 5, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    BTW, I read this when I didn’t had internet connection and wasn’t able to comment, but I have questions: how do you approach practicing an event like this? Do you play or teach? Both? How do you make it fun and/or not a scary or boring thing?

    • 4. tgaw  |  May 7, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      I guess it would be more under the “play” classification? I would take my finger and pretend to drill or squirt him with water or suck the water out. I was very liberal with the sound effects, which probably helped to keep it interesting. : )


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