Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Mother's Motto: Be Prepared

From the time Sophia sprouted teeth, she has rejected our attempts to brush them. I suspect it is not so much the sensation of brushing, as it is the sense of violation that irks her. Either way, it is a daily and nightly battle that I wage in the name of oral health.

So, in part, my insanity about limiting juice and sweets is intimately related to her resistance to brushing. Until she is cleansing those teeth herself, taking responsibility for the consequence of her actions, I’m going to have some say in how much sugar crosses her lips. Go ahead. Call me a hypocrite. Yes, I eat a lot of chocolate. I also floss every night.

My family has a history of bad teeth. My father, the child of depression-era parents, tells me he did not own a toothbrush (nor had he ever seen a dentist), prior to adolescence. His poor dental hygiene (coupled with some other bad habits) has eroded his smile. He has more bridges than Madison County, and frequently calls me, deliberating the choice to try to build in supports to save a tooth that is on its way out, or to save a few bucks and just have it pulled.

“It’s your teeth, Dad.”

“Yeah, but it costs me a lot of f-ing money.”

“Exactly, what are you saving your money for? Dentures?”

So I understand the importance of good dental hygiene. After losing my first adult tooth (gum disease, the component of my dad’s dental problems that might be genetic), I got serious. After years of my dentist pleading with me to floss, I finally broke down. And now, I bask in the praise of my dentist who acknowledges that I am a truly dedicated flosser. Not like those hacks who only floss the night before they go to the dentist and come into the office the next day their gums a shredded, bloody mess.

A necessary evil, I have long feared Sophia’s first trip to the dentist. Best case scenario—she throws a royal fit for us and we have to retrain her. Worst case scenario—she throws a royal fit for us and we have to restrain her as the dentist drills her 20 cavities-ridden teeth. So, I was terribly relieved when my pediatrician said to take her when I thought she could sit through it. (Of course, I had read elsewhere that you should take them as soon as they get a tooth. I say, when you hear conflicting advice, go with the thing you want to hear. Um, I mean, trust your instincts.)

Kevin and I have tried everything, and I mean everything, to get Sophia to brush her teeth—cute brushes, silly songs, modeling the behavior, a toothbrush that spins, vibrates and cleans your teeth just by holding it stationary in your mouth…pinning her down and forcibly prying her mouth open. Oh yeah, and begging and pleading. The only thing that has proven to be successful is to distract. Distract. DISTRACT DISTRACT. So, in the morning I let Sophia do a paltry job herself, and in the evening Kevin and Sophia lie side-by-side as he holds a book up over her face, while I hover over her, invading her mouth and sawing away, quadrant by quadrant, with the determination to keep her cavity free.
It works for us.

As her third birthday approached, I knew it was time. The last vestiges of babyhood were fading fast. The diapers went, then the high chair, the baby fat from her cheeks…and she could sit and focus, at least while I wasn’t making the demand that she do it.

Together, we went to the library to take out some dentist books. I found a whole shelf full of them, untouched since 1984. Two of them were a photojournalistic trip to the dentist’s. Perfect.

Sophia was enchanted. She made us read the books over and over again. And pretty soon, I was performing complete dental exams in the basement. She would lean her head back and open her mouth as wide as it would go. Still, I would quote from one of her books, “Open wider, Sophie. I can’t stand on my head.” We counted her teeth with a spoon, polished them with a plastic cake server, and then took x-rays by placing small folded pieces of cardboard in her mouth as I ran out of the room to push the button. Then, I’d come back and draw pictures of little teeth on them with black spots. “Oooh,” I’d say, “bad news. It looks like you have some cavities. We’re going to have to clean out those teeth.” And then I’d drill them with my little finger, as I made a high-pitched whirring sound.

When I was finished, she simply said, “Again!”
Still, fantasy is one thing, reality another. I really wasn’t sure how this was going to go down. When D-day finally arrived, Sophie was so excited she could hardly contain herself. Now I was really worried—what if she felt cheated by the experience. As if I had made something really awful into something really wonderful. What if our trip to the dentist made me a liar in my daughter’s eyes?

In the dentist office, Sophie shrieked with delight when she saw the toys in the waiting room. She dove in while I poured over the paperwork. We both looked up when the hygienist stood at the door: “Sophia?”

Sophia leapt up and ran for the door. “Are you my dentist?” she asked. No, she was not, but she would take us back to the room and the dentist would be there soon.

Sophia sprawled out on the red pleather dentist chair and opened her mouth as wide as it could go. “Not yet,” laughed the hygienist. “We need to wait for the dentist.” I made her shut of the television at the foot of the chair. “We won’t be needing that, “I told her, hoping it was true. I read a book I pilfered from the waiting room until the dentist walked in. On cue, Sophie’s mouth dropped open again. The dentist was charmed. “You may be my best patient yet today,” she told Sophia. Sophie beamed and then she opened her mouth again. “We’re not ready for that quite yet, honey. I want to show you my instruments first.” And then, just like in the books we read, she patiently showed Sophie each instrument and explained how it worked. Sophie was rapt. And compliant. She let the dentist count her teeth, polish them, scrape of the plaque (yes, she had a little, despite my best efforts) and paint them with fluoride. And when she was done, she left the room and re-emerged with a princess crown and a fairy wand.

Sophie almost passed out.

When we finally walked out of the office, Sophia burst into tears. “I want to stay!” she tantrummed.

I stood there and let her throw a fit, proud to be her mom.

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