Day 336: This Nice Man’s Going to Look at Your Teeth

The dentist told us not to feel guilty as it was likely genetics that caused Arlo (2) to have tooth decay. His two cavities need to be fixed immediately so they don’t become infected and blah blah danger blah panic blah palpitation blah f*ck.  The first plan of attack was to give him laughing gas while I held him down. The appointment was this morning.

It’s some vestige of ancient society that fathers are somehow more capable of watching as their children are subjected to pain. Well, it’s 2011, and fathers are the new mothers. We went in at 8:45am so no other patients would be there to hear my boy’s screams. The dentist reassured me by saying,  “Oh, he’s going to cry a lot. Probably the whole time in fact. And that’s actually good because it causes him to open his mouth. The key is to make sure he gets enough gas so he’s disoriented and gives up fighting.” I guess parenthood isn’t all about cooling off a waffle while someone pees on your foot — there’s difficult stuff too.

We had spent the previous 36 hours telling Arlo about the awesome mask he would get to wear that would make him feel all “woh woh woh.” That kind of pep talking might work with an older kid, but to a 2 year old it’s just inane chatter that he knows to agree with because it’s said in a certain rhythm and intonation.

When he and I entered the dentist’s office and he saw the chair, his brain went into “Ummmmmmm yeah, there is no way I’m staying here” mode. The dentist and I were prepared for that and didn’t let it stop us.

I laid down on the chair like I was the patient, and made Arlo lie on top of me face up. “You hold his body and I’ll take care of his head,”  I wrapped my arms and legs around my son like Lennie from Of Mice and Men loving a rabbit too much. The dentist put the mask on him, which is really more of a slightly thinner Geordi Laforge visor that rests loosely under his nose.What we needed was a Hannibal Lecter mask.

For a moment he relaxed and it appeared we might be in the clear, but as soon as the dentist’s fingers approached Arlo’s mouth, he started flailing like a hooked marlin. The nitrous nose visor was up around his forehead; I was doing some move on him I saw during an MMA fight – it just wasn’t going to work. My accomplice agreed.

Next step is a pediatric dentist who I guess is going to try the same thing but with more stuffed animals and high-pitched talking. If that doesn’t work, we get to put him in a straight jacket and a head vice (called a papoose – which pretty much ruins the idea of a papoose forever, for everyone.) If that sounds like something they might have done during the civil war in order to perform brain surgery, just add a whiskey soaked rag to suck on, and you’re right.

I was wondering why no one has invented a safe way to sedate toddlers for an hour, but then realized if such a thing existed parents would be robbing pharmacies to get it.

We arrived home having failed. I put him in his highchair, filled his tray with popcorn, and put on Yo Gabba Gabba. He was totally fine, so I took the opportunity to do some grown-ass-man silent weeping in the corner.

I'm a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, Psychology Today and some others. My book, "This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists" is available here Look for two more books in 2015: "Must. Push. Buttons (Bloomsbury Kids), and an as-of-yet untitled memoir I’ve appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Nick Mom’s Night Out." I live in New Jersey with my wife and two sons and enjoy making them laugh more than anyone else.

57 comments On Day 336: This Nice Man’s Going to Look at Your Teeth

  • You are hilarious. Next time try Yo Gabba Gabba on the ipad while he is in the dentist chair. Works for my 2 year old and his breathing treatments which sound a lot like your experience at the dentist. Ok, yours was a bit worse. But the house could be burning down and if Gabba is on my son won't notice. Before we discovered that or Thomas the Train videos, we would have a musical review by every person in the house (singing 18 rounds of Old MacDonald) just to distract him during treatments. It was not a pretty site.

  • I was at the dentist at 7 am this morning doing the same thing with my oversized five year old. Almost feels like wrestling a greased pig. Thanks for letting me know we weren't alone! Better luck next time!

  • Ouch! You just inspired me to go find the kids' toothbrushes!

  • Pediatric dentists have more experience with children in the first place and often have more strategies that are less likely to involve restraint. I'd see if you can find reviews of pediatric dentists to pick one that people recommend based on ease of treatment for little ones. Your Arlo isn't the only one who doesn't want anyone messing with their mouth! Good luck!

  • just curious…how did you know he had tooth decay if he had never been to the dentist before? I don't mean to sound rude, but I was just wondering b/c i have no idea of how to get my 3 year old to sit in a dentist chair – it won't happen!

    • We had already been once for a quick consultation where the dentist was able to see that there was definitely some decay

      • This was an interesting read for me personally. Last summer when my son was only 18 months, one of his front teeth “broke” and our pediatrician recommended we take him to a nearby pediatric dentist. 6 cavities, at 18 months. 6. the dentist said it’s because I nursed him. I came home and sobbed, upset that I had (the dentist was wrong) unintentionally done my son such harm.
        The dentist’s office was like a car gallery; they took us from person to person and to the “finance office” or some such nonsense, at the very end of it all, and told us it would cost around $6K and that it woudl have to be done at the hospital since he was so very small (he would have to go under). They were going to put stainless steel teeth in there, and pull his own teeth out!
        I faxed the “estimate” or whatever it’s called, abroad. My son was born abroad, and we were still in touch with the doctor’s where I had him. They recommended a local dentist’s clinic there.
        I immediately bought plane tickets–last-minute summer in-season-expensive-as-hell tickets mind you—and the two adult tickets cost about 3500, I think.
        The clinic was unbelievably attentive—as if we were royalty type of attentive. My son was “under” for probably close to two hours unfortunately. They said they spent over half an hour looking for a vein for the IV. :(
        I’m the one who took him into the OR and left him there once he was under. They told me he’d be just as mad when he woke up as he was when they put the mask on him. He was.
        He was just fine, afterwards.
        We still freak out about his teeth. Yes, he still nurses. The dentists abroad said nursing does NOT cause cavities, that the sugar in breastmilk is actually a different type of sugar (and is actually called something different—or rather, all non-milk sugars are called something different) and that the only way it would increase the risk of cavities is by other foods sticking onto my son’s teeth if he had a layer of milk on his teeth prior to eating.
        They also said they would never, ever, put in stainless steel teeth to a child that small because he hasn’t even had all of his teeth come out yet. To put the stainless steel in they would have to cut into the gum (I still find the whole thing horrifying to this day) and that that is not a process that they’re willing to go through with a child, especially if other teeth are going to come in before and after/beside that tooth.
        Finally, they said that the cavities are super-small (outside of the tooth that broke, which had already chipped in the US, but actually broke/crumbled down the week before his operation) and that they would just patch them up. They said they woudl do what they could to save the tooth that broke (and they did) because it is more important for him to have his natural baby teeth in as place holders than to have something fake in its place. They also said that broken tooth was too weak to cap, that the cap would pull the entire tooth out eventually.
        All in all it cost less than 1,000 dollars. We had a private room for him. They had people there that played puppets with him and it was just a very warm (while hi-tech) environment overall. The dentist who operated on him was definitely not like a car salesman. On the contrary she said she was very relieved to actually see him in person and see that his mouth wasn’t all that bad afterall. That while he did have 6 cavities they were mostly very easy to patch up and the only reason she’d want to put him under is to be able to thoroughly clean his teeth and apply the flouride treatment to it.
        The reason I’m writing to you about this in length like this is because:
        1- I understand how horrifying the whole I-suck-as-a-parent thing is,
        2- I think pediatric dentistry (at least in our state/area) has become a big assembly-line type of business here and has lost whatever patient-centered treatment it used to have,
        3- I found the professionals in the dentists office to be superficially polite or professional but ice ice cold and even condescending, which doesn’t help matters when you’re feeling horrible about your kid’s teeth to begin with,
        4- there are other options out there,
        5- kids are super-resilient. more so than we.
        Take care,

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