July 22, 2008

Avoiding Dentist Drama

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"Mom, why is there a blue circle around the 15th?" Max asked, studying the family calendar.

"That's when you and Libby have your dental check-up," I replied, trying to sound breezy. "And the red circle is our next barbecue…"

My attempt at diversion failed. "The dentist!" Max shrieked, his face turning pale. "My teeth feel fine. Why do we have to go to the dentist?"

I understood completely. Most "dental anxiety" is inherited -- and Max got his from me. I suffered from the same apprehension, that nervous feeling which ebbs when I call for an appointment and doesn't subside until I'm out of the chair and back in the reception area (where "dental anxiety" is often replaced by "financial jitters" as the assistant hands me my bill).

I needed to put a positive spin on a dental visit -- and I had only ten days until we had left before we reached that blue circle.

That night, I dug out an old copy of Just Going To The Dentist, the Mercer Mayer story that was a favorite of my older children. With Max and Libby snuggled on my lap, I read about Little Critter's visit to Dr. Ghum, which details what the kids could expect at their appointment. "So an X-ray is just like a tooth picture?" Max asked, tentative but a bit less tense.

"Right. Just say cheese and keep your face still," I answered. He nodded, but I wasn't sure he was convinced.

The next day, I discovered magic -- Play-Doh Magic, that is. That evening, I told my younger children I had a game to play with them after they brushed their teeth. They quickly ran to the bathroom and came back, teeth shining, and I presented them with the Play-Doh Dr. Drill and Fill playset.

Max bared his teeth at me. "Is this a trick?" he asked.

I explained that going to the dentist could be fun -- if you knew what was going on. Then I let the kids take turns filling teeth (with Play-Doh, of course) and fixing cavities with the "electronic" drill. They worked on the "patient" that came with the set, then decided to open a dental clinic for Libby's teddy bears and rag dolls.

Finally, I arranged for a pre-visit -- a time for my children to meet the dentist before their appointment. Many dentists allow a "fun visit," when the child can check out the office. A ride in the chair, a look in the mirror and a free toothbrush later, the child's ready for the next, "real" visit. (If your dentist doesn't have the time, check the area dental schools -- they're often anxious to have young visitors.) The dentist even let my kids hear his drill -- and said they could bring headphones if they thought the sound was scary.

"Dentists really do help people," I heard Max say that night as he measured a Pooh Bear for braces. He caught me watching, and grinned from ear to ear.

And, a week later, he was still smiling as he scooted into the chair and opened wide. Thanks to his new friend, the dentist, that smile will be around for a long long time.

Looking for more creative solutions? Click here to see our best Dream Team stories.

Have you had to soothe fears about going to the dentist? What seems to work? Click the comments link below to find and share ideas.

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