Empowerment at the Dentist’s Office

The night before my son’s tooth extraction I split my time between agonizing over my failure to protect his sweet little teeth and the idea of general anesthesia for his extraction. The horrors of putting my son to sleep quickly outweighed my guilt over stringent brushing.

I googled tooth questions past midnight. I followed this with a massive dose of cute animal videos ( me in kitty format! ) until I felt sleepy.

Early the next morning, Liev became the heart of a swirl of blond hygienists. Four or five women flitted about. I could not tell them apart. They looked like sisters and aunts at a dental family reunion.

As a nurse lectured my husband about the various options for Liev’s procedure, I added my blondness to the circling extraction maelstrom. Egor came to Liev and asked him if he would like to try “laughing gas” and stay awake or take a shot to relax or have a “house” (IV for anesthesia) and sleep.

This raised eyebrows—our culture assumes five-year-olds can’t decide things for themselves. Yet, a deep part of our parenting philosophy is empowerment. Papa’s idea was to give Liev some control over what was happening to him. This would make the experience less frightening.

Liev chose laughing gas and a numbing shot.

I held Liev’s hand and talked about Grandma and Grandpa and their scuba diving adventures as they administered the gas. Liev soon released my hand and the hovering aunties took over. The tooth was removed in minutes.

Liev is now unafraid of the dentist. He made a little if-then flow chart of what will happen at his cleanings and fillings. I plan to take the same approach to tooth brushing. We will have toothbrush choices and toothpaste choices. We can brush our teeth in the bathroom, TV room or by the mailbox.

Twice a day. We can do it.

When You Bite at Night

Twenty years ago, I had a peculiar experience camping.

Unable to sleep, I ventured out of my tent to fetch a soothing glass of wine. I was not the only restless soul.  Moonlight illuminated Mom, sipping wine and stargazing. I joined her on the picnic bench near her tent.

We exchanged polite murmurs and tilted our heads to the sky. The Milky Way Dangled just beyond our reach, a three-dimensional filigree of dust and light.

A strange sound interrupted our peace. It was a clomping, lopping clatter, like a tiny horse trotting across a Formica countertop. Puzzled, I strained to listen. The weird clopping continued. My brain whizzed to make sense of the unusual racket.

I mentally ticked off possibilities.  Were wild animals engaged in a sinister game of rock-hockey?  Was someone taking infrared photographs of us? Perhaps a serial killer chipped future notches into a nearby boulder?  The odd clacking sound became louder and more insistent.

The horror of the unknown swept over me. My body dumped a massive quantity of tingly adrenaline straight to my toes.  Before I succumbed to a full-fledged panic attack, I whispered to Mom, “Do you hear that?”

“Yes. Yes, that’s Dad. He’s grinding his teeth.”

I would have been less surprised if she had told me the noise came from aliens or Bigfoot.  I crept up to the tent. Clack, clack, clack, grate. Chomp.  Chomp.

Poor Dad. I never imagined tooth grinding could make such a racket. His jaw gnashing seemed so powerful; certainly, he would pulverize his face into splinters before morning.

Dad made it through the night, but years later he sacrificed four cracked and worn molars to bruxism.

Painful Teeth

Ten percent of the population experiences significant bruxism (teeth grinding).  Daily, you chew food using 20-40 pounds of pressure. Nighttime bruxing can generate 250 pounds of pressure.  Dentists and oral surgeons can’t decide if stress or uneven teeth cause bruxism.

My personal experience is that people on the autism spectrum grind their teeth more often. The proprioceptive input relieves residual nighttime anxiety.

Fast forward to winter 2012. The unnerving clomping and grating sound revisited me–in my son’s bedroom. I considered making Liev’s first dental appointment as I listened to his symphonic teeth-gnashing.

I put it off, naturally. Regular doctor appointments induce hysteria in both Liev and myself. Brushing Liev’s teeth is like imposing dental hygiene on a badger.  This daily struggle I leave to Papa or ignore outright. A dental exam seemed unmanageable.

That changed last week when Liev broke a molar.

Panicked, I finagled a same-day dental appointment. The dentist informed me that a combination of tooth grinding and decay caused his molar to deteriorate and break. He also recommended swift removal. An extraction was scheduled for 7 am the next morning.

The kindly dentist prepared me for the possibility of general anesthesia for my rambunctious son.

To be continued…