When it comes to my son, W, I am a mama bear who shows her temper only when crossed. Together we have navigated IEPs, challenging school districts, and playground bullies with incessant questions about boys who sometimes like to wear fingernail polish.
I didn’t imagine I would have to question a health care worker about my son’s quality of care. It was on the list of things I blindly took for granted. Only when a problem arose did I realize I had been asleep on my advocating job.
W cut his teeth very early. He had his first dentist appointment at age three and loved it. The hygienist was super calm and explained everything. I was so relieved it went so well. His second dentist appointment also went well, and we found out his six-year molars were coming in. He lost his first tooth at age four and then lost a tooth a week for the next five weeks.
Something changed at his third dentist appointment. Dentist anxiety suddenly happened. At W’s appointment, things were rushed, the hygienist grabbed the tools without explaining what they were, and my son completely freaked out and would not calm down. The hygienist was clearly on a timeline to get to the next patient and gave up on him. The dentist took a look in his mouth, but we left without a cleaning.
Before his fourth dentist appointment, W told me he was anxious about going to the dentist. For weeks leading up to the appointment, nothing I said or did was alleviating his dentist anxiety. But I figured all we had to do was get through the cleaning and the dental check and then we could cross this off our list.
It went horribly, terribly, no good, very bad, and awful. W was so anxious he was in a ball in the chair. When he finally stretched out enough for the hygienist to clean his teeth, he had a complete panic about the flavors. They ended up using zero flavor, just the gritty stuff, and a manual toothbrush. Halfway through the brushing the hygienist pushed a water tube into his mouth and a suction tube and his eyes grew large with, “WHAT?” She gave no explanation, just shoved it in.
When it was clear that their “solution” to a patient with anxiety was NOT to speak to him, I talked to W to explain what was going on.
We then waited to see the dentist. We probably weren’t waiting that long, 15 minutes or so, but when your kid is sobbing and moaning about how scared he is, it was eons. Finally the dentist looked in W’s mouth, counted teeth, and then said, “Uh oh! Someone’s got THREE cavities!!”
Complete humiliation for my little guy. He didn’t really know what a cavity was, just that now he had some and that they were clearly bad. The dentist told me someone would talk to me about the “next steps for the cavities because” they wouldn’t be able to take care of them.
We were ushered into a side room, W was given a coloring page and crayons, and then an unknown woman came in to tell me that my son’s anxiety was a Big Problem. They “can’t treat patients like him, it’s not safe.” Instead they wanted him to go to a medical center several towns away where he would be sedated for several hours, and then dentists there would work on his cavities.
Oh. Why? And how much does this cost?
Even after insurance, it would be several thousands of dollars to go to this center and be set up under medical conditions. THEN there would be the extra costs of the actual dental work. Each of the center’s schedulers and “professionals” made me feel so weird and guilty for having “one of THOSE kinds of kids.” And wasn’t I just so lucky that there was this option for him …
It didn’t feel right. It felt off and manipulated. Surely W isn’t the only kid who has ever been nervous about going to the dentist. The only option couldn’t be to send him out to a super expensive center and sedate him. But, if that is what we had to do, then we would do it.
When I went over all of this with my mom, she immediately said, “You need to take him to another dentist.” Wait, WHAT? I can do that?
I have no idea why I didn’t realize this. How had I become so passive in my son’s healthcare? I didn’t have to accept this office’s prognosis; I could reach out elsewhere and see if there was a kinder, gentler solution.
Soon W had an appointment at a different dental office. The day of the appointment he was a wreck, complaining that his tummy hurt and that he wasn’t able to eat lunch. The new office was playing Frozen in the waiting room and had some cool toys to keep him busy, but as soon as his name was called, I could see panic on his face.
As we went towards the hygienist, he declared, “I am not doing this …” The hygienist said, “EXCUSE ME? Not doing what? Not winning this race?!” She took off running down the hall. Without hesitation my guy was off chasing her and as they flew into an office, I heard him gleefully yell, “I won!”
She had him. Totally. Pegged. She took a moment to introduce herself to me, but then her focus was right back on W. She told him EXACTLY what was going to happen at the appointment. She picked up each instrument that was going to be used and let him hold it and examine it. She told him if he ever needed a break or had a question, he could raise his hand and everyone would stop. It was then that I saw all of the anxiety melt off his face.
The dentist was patient and also explained everything to him. She even asked W if he had any questions for her. She examined his teeth and then examined them again just to make sure, and then she said, “So you were told he has three cavities? He actually doesn’t have any. His teeth look great.”
She told him how proud she was of him for taking such great care of his teeth and then walked him through a flossing lesson.
We walked out of there with W yelling to the office, “I can’t wait to see you again!”
I wasn’t planning on ever speaking to the first dentist‘s office again, but they made the unfortunate mistake of sending me a bill for a treatment that W never had. When I called the billing department to investigate, I also mentioned we were moving to another dentist. “Oh, and by the way, you guys misdiagnosed my son, and you were sending us off to spend thousands of dollars unnecessarily.” Her response, “Well, the nervous ones move around so much …”
Nope. The nervous ones just need a bit of extra care. I am so glad we found a place who can give it.
Image source: Dresden ShumakerMore On