The Dentist and Tiny Steps

“Take it out!” Emma said.  “Take it out!”

We were at the dentist’s office where she had just had a baby tooth pulled because it was obstructing the adult tooth from descending.

Five years ago when Emma had two cavities that needed to be filled on two baby teeth, we had to take her to the hospital and have her anesthetized as she could not tolerate having an x-ray let alone having a cavity filled.  The two baby teeth were capped and while she was unconscious the dentist applied a sealant to all her teeth as they are unusually porous and susceptible to cavities and plaque.  When she regained consciousness she cried, “Take it out! Take it out!  She then tried to pull the metal caps off her teeth.  I still remember sitting with her at the hospital, horrified as she screamed and cried and pulled at the caps on her two teeth, wondering what we were going to do.  After a few days, when she realized the capped teeth were not going anywhere anytime soon, she grew accustomed to them and stopped trying to pull them off.

Over the years Em has grown used to the dentist and dental visits and allowed him to clean her teeth without protest.  A year ago she sat still long enough to have multiple x-rays taken of her mouth and teeth.  This was a first!  Em was ten years old.  Now Em has four braces on her four front teeth and has a palate expander in place that she tolerates, though doesn’t much like.  (Who would?)  Two days ago she tolerated the dentist giving her a novocaine like numbing agent allowing him to pull her baby tooth.  This was a first and a huge milestone.

“Take it out!” she kept saying.  At first the dentist thought she was eager to have him pull her tooth, but I had a feeling she meant the numbing sensation.  “Do you mean take out the tooth or take away the strange sensation?” I asked.  “Take it out, Mommy.  This,” and she pulled at her upper lip, twisting it with her fingers.  “I know it’s an awful feeling, but it will wear off, Em,” I told her and then asked the dentist how long he thought the numb feeling would last.  The dentist told me it should wear off in about an hour, so I set a timer on my phone and handed it to her.  She held the phone and watched the minutes tick by.  Meanwhile I hoped beyond hope the dentist had given me a correct estimate and wasn’t being optimistic.

After the tooth had been pulled and the bleeding had stopped, he came by to check on her and saw Em with my phone and the timer counting down the seconds and minutes.   He laughed, “Uh oh, you’re going to hold me to it!”  Then he said, “You better give her something hot to drink, that will speed up the process.”

“Good to know,” I said.  “Hey Em, when we get home, I’m going to fix you some hot chai.  It will help that weird feeling go away.”  “Take it out!” Em said.  “Yeah, it’s going to make the numb feeling go away faster.” Em nodded her head and off we went with Em clutching my phone watching the seconds tick by.

By the time we arrived home there were about ten minutes left and Em kept repeating, “Take it out!  It’s okay, it’s okay.  Timer goes off and it’ll be gone!”

I fixed her some hot tea, told her to drink it and when the timer went off the numbness must have abated enough to make her less panicked.  About an hour and a half after the first shot she said she felt fine.

Tiny steps, taken one after the other over time, can and do take us far…

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17 responses to “The Dentist and Tiny Steps

  1. Timers are good. Things aren’t going to last for an overwhelming ever.

  2. All these steps add up. Then you look back and see how far we’ve all come.

  3. Little steps and huge steps all!! Spectacular!!

  4. Wow, that is amazing! Thanks for sharing this story…I know I need to get both of sons into a dentist, and the thought terrifies me. What amazing progress she has made. And how awesome you are for being able to think outside the box and get the meaning behind her scripting. I have a stopwatch and an iphone and a visual timer and am a damn fool for not using them all more. Thanks for reminding me! 😉

  5. Great job Emma!!! Brett needs his check up scheduled…..yeah, haven’t gotten myself to do that yet! 🙂 He hates it and his momma hates it more! 🙂 We keep him going in hopes that he will begin to adjust! Last visit he nearly got out the door on us he bolted so fast! Poor kiddo! Baby steps! 🙂

  6. Wow! Great dentist, clearly, and great job, Emma! (I hate the numbing sensation, but I think I’m “normal” or hyposensitive touch-wise, so it doesn’t bother me as it obviously did her.) Congratulations to you all for the steps taken and the support given!

    😉 tagAught

  7. I had a palate expander that my mom had to put a metal key into and turn it every day. One day, my mother turned the key and there was a SPROING sound in my head and suddenly a gap between my upper incisors and my entire face shape changed. That totally FREAKED ME OUT. To this day, I still describe it as ” and then they broke my upper jaw.”

    I need to find a new dentist but it’s so hard to do anything like that. My dentist does not treat me well. He treats me like all his other patients, and that’s a good thing. But I’m Autistic and need different treatment. He’s really good about explaining things before he does them, and that’s why I still go to him at all. But he pressures me to buy things medicaid doesn’t cover and says dismissive things like, well, if you really care about your teeth . . .

    I live on $700/month. It is so uncool to do that to me!

    I also have a problem lots of Autistics have, which is that it takes a LOT of novocaine/lidocaine/whatevercaine to numb my mouth enough to pull a back molar (which is what medicaid pays for. I cannot get my teeth fixed, but I can get them pulled out. And medicaid will not buy me dentures when the teeth are all gone.)

    Every time, he gives me not-enough (and I always have to make a big deal about the epinephrine before the injection because he always forgets to leave it out and it gives me a huge panic attack when I get it.) and every time he goes to pull a tooth out of an unnumbed mouth and I start screaming he shames me. And every time when he gives me more he lectures me about needing the maximum amount. And I leave the dentist feeling like a naughty child. And in pain. And bleeding everywhere. And crying.

    I need to find a dentist who is good with Autistic adults. It is so hard to find.

    I’m so glad that Emma’s dental visits are getting easier. I feel for her! Getting your teeth works on sucks. I often go into shut down in the dentist chair and spend the whole visit with the dentist or the assistant shaking me over and over, saying I have to wake up. I either need a dentist who understands shut down or I need a dentist who doesn’t send me into shut down.

    Thank you for writing about Emma’s dentist visits. It makes me feel a little braver about going back to the dentist soon. (I have a tooth that has broken off at the gumline and I am not looking forward to finding out what they will do about it so I have been avoiding it.)

    • Oh no! That sounds beyond horrifying! We’ve been so lucky so far. Em has been taking all of this really really well. (I had to do the little key thing too, hated doing it, glad we’re done with that!)

      • I wish I could recommend my dentist, because I think he would do well for you. My mother and I both need more medication because we have long roots on our back teeth and he does a great job. But I don’t suppose you live in Hawai’i.

  8. Ariane, I often shake my head when another “coincidence” happens…and guess where we where on Tuesday? Emma’s relationship with dental care changed 100percent when she began to write. Now, we have a wonderful hygienist who plays music, has a chair massager for her and after every few teeth cleaned, slathers her with the hand lotion of her choice! Emma was telling us about how bad cleanings used to be, trauma.
    Congrats Emma. Way to go!

    • I just love hearing about Emma! Please tell her I am thinking about her and am so glad going to the dentist is now a good experience. I may try the hand lotion and suggesting music on Em’s next visit! Such great ideas. Why shouldn’t going to the dentist be more like a visit to the spa?

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