A Pediatric Dental Success

My 2 year-old has soft teeth. Not suede-coated or malleable, just a little soft… for teeth. He can still chew, smile, and inflict puncture wounds on his parents. In those ways he’s normal — just a perfectly normal tyke who’s a little more prone to cavities, but can still enjoy a fist full of Cheerios with a forearm chaser.

Sure, we do that whole tooth brushing nonsense, and he fights it despite how much we try to turn it into a dance party by using a talking DJ Lance toothbrush. Inevitably, though, my wife ends up force-brushing our kid’s teeth. He’ll probably grow-up to have the opposite of an oral fixation, whatever that is. At least he won’t be a smoker.

Out first attempt to “get the owies out of his mouth” was a miserable failure of over-confidence . You can read about that here.  It took me three months to build up enough mental energy to try again. I figured after the first calamity, my boy’s ample defenses would be triggered by any word starting with “den.” I was right. He hated the idea of going back. Pathetically, he tried to convince me his teeth were fine. “Eeee… no owies! Eee?” “E” stands for “See.” That chant was the soundtrack of our drive to the appointment. Just the two of us jamming to “E, no owies… E, E, no owies,” in a  rhythm identical to the “be aggressive, be be aggressive” song of the 1988 Delaware Hayes Pacers cheerleading squad.

Fish tanks, various rideable plastic trucks, and standing cardboard cut-outs of Disney characters occupied the waiting room. Arlo told them all emphatically that the owies in his mouth were gone, but Goofy just stared at him and kept smiling. I told Minnie about the earthquake in Haiti, and she smiled at that too. Does nothing upset cardboard?

After 10 minutes of unsuccessful distraction, they called for Arlo. It’s cute, and completely ridiculous that they call the kid’s name, as if he’s there by himself of his own volition. We were guided back to a room to meet with the magical pediatric dentist, Dr. Howie. Dr. Howie is an ex deadhead (and perhaps current deadhead) who uses some mysterious Vulcan mind-grip to disarm any  fear in his young patients. The precise mechanism by which this works is unclear, but I’m sure  his small cherubic face, and confident, yet playful demeanor could convince a feral cat to get on a ferris wheel.

He had two cavities in need of a “drill and fill,” as Dr. Howie cheerfully referred to it. He let Arlo hold all the “super cool” instruments, and reminded him of the tokens he would get to use in the toy machine afterwards.  I could see the fear in my little boy’s eyes, and even some tears, but he didn’t cry or resist. He had summoned a stoicism that put even his nervous father at ease.

I sat knee-to-knee with Dr. Howie, which was, admittedly, just the right amount of dude intimacy I needed at that moment. We laid Arlo on his back with his head on Howie’s lap and the rest of his body on mine. He affixed a giant blue dental tent that covered nearly all of Arlo’s face, except for one tooth and his eyes. Because I thought the colorful medieval torture device might freak-out my boy, I began singing the ABC’s to keep him calm.  Since it appeared to be working, Dr. Howie joined in, as did the hygienist, and then some random lady who might not have even worked there. We all sang it, joyfully, over and over again. Eventually, I realized the song was being used more as a distraction for the uneasy  grown-ups than for easing the shifty-eyed, wide-mouthed toddler.

When it was over, I said to Arlo, “All done!” He seemed surprised, and began chanting, “All done, all done.” He probably felt like I did on the last day of high school. Of course, “All done, all done, all all all done” was the soundtrack to our drive home.

It’s been a few months, and he still refers to Dr. Howie. I don’t know if it’s  because the traumatic experience was burned into his brain forever, or if he just misses that magical hippy man.

Now it’s my turn to visit the dentist, and I kind of wish Dr. Howie saw adult patients.

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 http://bit.ly/1exfm34. 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.

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