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.

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