The Price of Trust

I walked out of a $200 dental appointment today because my 8-year-old said it hurt. And it was more than worth it.

child at dentist

We have a worst-case-scenario family history when it comes to dentists. Poor enamel and difficulty getting numb has resulted in nightmare experiences for me, and most of my relatives. As an adult, they pay attention to me when I say it hurts, but as a child, they didn’t always take me seriously.

When my daughter first needed some work done, we went to the only pediatric dentist that took our insurance, because my own dentist said that it needed to be a specialist. From the beginning, the vibe was a little condescending, but the first appointment went well. The second one was horrible. I was watching through the window as my daughter started to cry. She was perfectly still and cooperative, but obviously in pain. I wanted to stop it, but the dentist insisted that we had to finish the appointment since she had already started drilling.

I froze. I was conditioned to defer to medical authority, and didn’t know what to do. She insisted that it was better to finish the appointment than go through the whole thing from start to finish again later, and warned of all kinds of dangers of not finishing the procedure. It sounded as if my daughter would be in far worse pain for far longer if we didn’t stick it out. I didn’t know what my options were, and I watched through the window with tears streaming down my face, feeling as helpless as my daughter.

Despite the Versed, my daughter remembered every moment clearly. She also told me of the harsh threats the dentist had spoken to get her to remain perfectly still. I had failed my daughter when she needed me desperately to protect her. It is still one of my deepest regrets as a parent.

Needless to say, we found a different dentist with a respectful attitude towards children. She was terribly anxious during the exam and cleaning, but did well. We practiced some of the excellent tips by Code Name: Mama to prepare her for the visit today. But of course she was still worried. This time, I was stronger. I promised her that if it hurt, we would stop and leave.

She only had a couple of small cavities, so there wouldn’t be too much drilling. We talked about the difference between discomfort because of being numb or having stuff in your mouth, and actual pain. I told the dentist and all the rest of the staff in her presence about our family history and that if it hurt, we would stop immediately and leave.

I watched nervously as the dentist gave her an injection, waited awhile, and then began to floss. He gave her a second injection, waited, then tried again. Heart sinking, I wasn’t surprised when the hygienist came in to tell me that although they hadn’t yet done anything, my daughter was still saying that it hurt when they tried to probe. She asked what we wanted to do.

I ran through the mental objections: Maybe it didn’t really hurt — perhaps she just disliked the sensation of being numb. We didn’t have the money to pay for this appointment for nothing. I even felt embarrassment at wasting their time (not to mention frustration at wasting my own morning). In my mind, I heard all the tough-love litanies, the dismissal that she was exaggerating or just disliked the numb sensation and that she would be fine afterwards, along with every condescending comment I had heard from my own childhood.

But this time, I was stronger. I firmly replied that we were going to stop. Her eyebrows went up. “Are you sure?” I could see a little skepticism in her face, and imagined that she was mentally reciting the same objections I had just gone through. “Yes, I am sure.” My daughter came over to me, eyes shining and told me that it had only hurt a tiny bit, but then they stopped. She was so relieved they had listened to her.

Our society has conditioned us to consider the convenience of other adults above the well-being of our own children. We are expected to take the side of the teacher, the doctor, the dentist, or anyone else whenever there is a conflict. I am so, so glad that this time I chose to listen to my daughter.

I know that protecting her this one time didn’t make up for caving the first time, but it went a long way. She is not at all afraid of going back now. She knows that I will make sure her voice and body are respected. The price of the appointment was nothing compared to the trust of my little girl.

_________________________

Dulce is learning to walk in grace with her amazing husband and four wonderful kidlets. She is a perpetual provider of magic mami milk who practices gentle discipline, shares a family bed, homeschools, teaches Spanish, and blogs at Dulce de leche. Each day brings plenty of iced coffee and a fresh lesson in trusting her children, herself and the Love that surrounds and fills us. Sometimes it feels like livin’ a vida loca, but overall, life is incredibly sweet.

32 Responses to The Price of Trust

  1. Lauren  

    This is beautiful, Dulce. Mikko’s had his own horror show at the dentist, and the first time I so regret going along with what the dentist was saying rather than trusting my own instincts. That was such a wake-up call for me to listen and respond to him rather than worry what the dentist might think of me or what the consequences might be.

    For us, it was as simple as (1) getting him more Novocaine when he needed it and was still feeling pain (the dentist was skeptical, but I trusted what Mikko was saying), (2) letting him take more breaks for water, and (3) getting him the unflavored numbing gel instead of the bubblegum flavor he didn’t like. That’s not advice for you in any way; I’m just recounting that it really was simple fixes for us, but we wouldn’t have discovered them except that I was willing to listen to him and ignore the powerful cultural pulls to be compliant and encourage him to be a “good patient.” Building trust in our children is so much more important than impressing our dentists! Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    • Dulce

      Thank you so much! Those are great tips! In her case, he had already maxed the dosage for her weight, but I know that my dentist has been able to do any work I needed by using the highest dose and also putting it in a slightly different place than usual. Apparently, my nerves are a little strange. ;)

  2. Rachael  

    In my mind, I heard all the tough-love litanies, the dismissal that she was exaggerating or just disliked the numb sensation and that she would be fine afterwards, along with every condescending comment I had heard from my own childhood.

    Wow. I am amazed that you said no to all that. Thank you; I will certainly notice the next time such thoughts start running through my own head.

  3. Amy

    That’s awesome! There is no amount of money that is worth more than my daughter and her trust. Frustrating as it can be sometimes!

  4. June Park  

    Amen! I have two children with sensory issues as well as one without those issues and respecting their comfort level and boundaries is key to earning and keeping their trust. Also we only go to dentists who allow the parent to be right beside the child or even holding the child in their lap. Thank you for sharing.:)

  5. L'Briska Robertson

    The dentist we go to did a procedure on my son without my prior consent which ended up in a few stitches being placed. They cut his frenulum(sp?), that little front piece above his front teeth. They said it would help bridge the gap in his front teeth. (That was over a year ago, he still has a gap by the way) It was because I did not go back with my son. He was very upset with me. I felt horrible. I laid into them and let them know how very upset I was and I refused to pay for the procedure. I now go back with each of my children every time.

  6. Megan at Montessori Moments

    “We are expected to take the side of the teacher, the doctor, the dentist, or anyone else whenever there is a conflict.”
    How sad, and yet how true. There should never be a conflict like that between a child and an adult, because we (I am a teacher, but this goes for doctors, dentists, etc) are supposed to be *helping* the child – in that moment (not in our whole lives but in that moment), our purpose is to meet the child’s needs. How can we do that if we are ignoring him? I don’t mean that the child will always “get his way”, but that we should always consider the situation from the child’s perspective too. Far too often, as you said, the adult’s convenience of placed ahead of the child’s needs.
    Thank you for sharing an example of what adults should be doing.

    • Dulce

      That is so beautiful and wise! I think that you nailed it by noting that we must be focused on that moment, too. Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Momma Jorje  

    The condescending attitude seems to be such a huge and common issue with dentists, especially pediatric dentists. Perhaps if more parents would walk out in such situations, a change will be made eventually. (Or maybe that is a pipe dream?)

    It can be so hard to balance being practical and really listening to our children. Kudos to you!

    So far, we like the pediatric dental place we’ve started using, but it is definitely much easier with Sasha (who has been once) than it is with my older daughter (who has already had dentist-related trauma).

    • Dulce

      Thanks so much! I am so glad that you guys found a place you like. We are very happy with our current dentist now. It makes such a huge difference to feel like you can trust them to listen to your children!

  8. naturemummy  

    Wow, you are an amazing mother

    • Dulce

      (((((Hug)))) Thank you! Most of the time I sure don’t feel like one, but having the support and wisdom that all of you share here is definitely helping me to learn more. I appreciate you so much!

  9. ecobabe  

    Great mothering :) I read about your post on FB where many people had commented that parents are not allowed into the dental surgery during their child’s checkup/work. I live in Australia and have never heard of this, here we are expected to accompany/participate in our child’s session to assist the dentist and the child. We visited the dentist just yesterday and both my children and myself learned so much by all being in together.

    • Dulce

      Thank you so much! I love that you are able to be together! I called eight different dentists (the only ones in town that accept our insurance) and they don’t allow parents back. :( The best we could come up with was watching through a camera the whole time. I think we could learn a lot from Australia!

  10. Melissa

    I completely understand wanting your child to trust you, but what about trusting you to know what is best for them. Sometimes things hurt, but that is part of life. When my kids have blood drawn it hurts- but I explain to them as an attached parent that this is for their well being and Mommy is right there for them supporting them. As an ER nurse~I hold down hundreds of children that scream that it hurts and ask for their mom/dad that is by their side. Are they just supposed to pick them up and say enough is enough no more??? I think that would be negligent as a parent to allow a wound not to be sutured, or in this case a dental problem not to be fixed. I think it sends a message to them that if I say it hurts then it doesn’t have to get done. I would “think” it would create a bad situation for future dental appointments. I commend you for being so in touch with your child’s feelings but I think we need to make sure our children know that they can trust “us” to make the best decisions for them even if it hurts sometimes.

    • Dulce

      Melissa, thanks so much for the thoughtful post! I definitely agree that there are some things that hurt, no matter what. In fact, my 3 year old had stitches where the pain relief injections didn’t work at all. :( It broke my heart, but they had tried and they simply didn’t work.

      I am not advocating neglect or not dealing with a health concern. However, with dental fillings there is usually enough time to find an alternative.

      My daughter’s teeth were fixed a couple of weeks after I originally wrote this post. Because she knew that they would listen, she had much less anxiety. Her dentist recommended that it all be done at once under general anesthesia, and she came through it perfectly.

      It is true that there are situations when we don’t have the option of exploring alternatives, but I believe that they will actually trust us then *because* we have demonstrated that we won’t put them through unnecessary pain, not because we have made them accustomed to it.

  11. Patricia Hope

    Good for you!
    I wonder if you know about EFT tapping? It is a technique that not ony helps to overcome pain and also the trauma of the past visit for you and your daughter .
    http://www.clever-toddler-activities.com/emotional-freedom-techniques-1.html
    You can also check out
    http://www.towards-happiness.com/emotional-freedom-techniques.html
    For more info and to help you learn it.
    Patricia

  12. Tash

    I am also from Australia, (I’m not a parent yet) but even when i was growing up the parents always went in with the children…..just 2 days ago i had my teeth professionally cleaned and my partner Mark had to have a filling and we were both in with each other…..its so strange that your not allowed in…by the way you are a great mother don’t let anyone tell you any less :)

  13. Dulce

    Thank you so very much! I appreciate your encouragement, and the wisdom and kindness of the Aussies. :)

  14. Sarah

    I totally support what you did, and hope that I would do the same. May I add, there are nutritional things you can do to prevent and heal cavities without ever going to a dentist. These could help rebuild your teeth and keep your kids out of that dentist chair. Green Pastures cod liver oil/butter oil blend being one of the biggest factors, along with natural re-mineralizing “toothpaste”. It would be worth looking into! :-)
    http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/how-i-healed-my-childs-cavity/

  15. Rachel C

    After reading this, and the comments following up, I am so relieved to have had good luck with the dentists that my daughter has seen. We have taken my 4 year old to 3 different dentists in an attempt to have her fillings and each one treated my daughter with respect and compassion. Their reasoning was that they wanted to foster a positive view of dental visits and not instill fear or feelings of pain and traumatize her. After 3 attempts we ended up at a pediatric dentist and have decided to have the procedure completed under general anesthesia. Boy, we sure were lucky! I am so glad that you were able to find a way that spoke to your daughter’s autonomy!

  16. Helen

    Thank you so much for this

    It is wonderful to see a prent who truly stands up for their child.

    I also unfortunately have issues with dentists from horrible experiences as a child, when I used to see a dentist who worked on my teeth with no anaesthetic at all. No one believed that it hurt so much – it wasn’t until I was an adult and had to go (was physically escorted and put in the chair by my partner and flatmate) due to a major infection that I found out that dental care DIDN’T HAVE TO HURT! sigh.

    My poor mother genuinely believed that the dentist was numbing me – and she was in the room with me :(

  17. Shanti

    What a wonderful mom! I’m 26 now and still remember every awful visit as a little kid. To this day they still have to give me a lot more freezing than regular people, but do you think they would listen to me back then? Nope! You’ve definitely done a lot for your little girl letting her know she’s got a voice. :)

  18. Lane Goodberry  

    Same thing happened to us when my little girl needed dental work. If the dentist tells you parents aren’t welcome to accompany the child, a big warning flag should start waving.

    Here is a link to a new dental graphic with fun and factual information. You are welcome to use it on your blog. The embed code is at http://www.melaleucablog.com/dental-mysteries-solved-infographic/

  19. Lisa Marie

    I had the same exact questions/concerns as Melissa above and you addressed them very well, Dulce- thanks for responding!

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