We had one of my favorite appointments in the office this week. “Lindsey” is 9 years old, but smart and articulate well beyond her years. Unfortunately, Lindsey had a cavity. To make matters worse, she was very anxious about having her tooth fixed because she had had a bad experience with another dentist when she was younger. Before I even walked into the room, Lindsey was crying. My job in these situations is to start building good experiences one at a time until the overwhelming weight of the positive wonders of good dentistry wipes out the memory of her earlier experience.
In adults, it can take years to undo the damage of a negative childhood experience, so it is critical that we get this right. Fortunately, with some patience, empathy, and respect, we can almost always turn things around. I asked Lindsey if it was okay if we just talked for a little while. I told her I understood that she was nervous because she had a bad experience was with someone else, but that I do things a little differently than he did. Eventually she admitted that she thought I was nice and, most importantly, that she trusted me. The tears were gone by now, and we laughed a little at my funny glasses. I asked if she would like me to explain everything we do to fix a tooth with a cavity, and she liked that idea. After I showed her how the “whistler” washes away the sugar bugs, and the magic light makes the gooey composite resin hard as a tooth, I asked her permission to put some numbing jelly next to her tooth. While that was working I scratched the back of her hand to show how the next step would feel (without using any scary words), and she let me get her numb. No tears, no worries. We counted to ten together and she said she felt a tiny pinch, but that went away between 4 and 5. I asked her if it was okay with her if I fixed her tooth now that it was asleep. I thanked her for giving me permission, and reminded her that she is in charge. If she needed to take a break at any time, for any reason, all she had to do was raise her left hand. We made that deal, and got started. Her restoration went flawlessly. I doubt that even my eagle-eyed hygienists, will be able to tell that there is a filling in the tooth. More importantly, we took a giant step in the right direction for a young lady to be able to enjoy a lifetime of good dental health, free from the fear that plagues far too many adults. There are times when we can make a real difference in someone’s life, and it feels wonderful. Lindsey was brave, and she made my day. If you would like to read more about how to help your kids’ dental health, click this link.