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Girl Goes To The Dentist

As I cross each milestone off my Maddie
list, my parental smugness grows: eating solid foods – check!
Walking – check! Not screaming when she sees the doctor with
a needle – check! Ok, yes, my child is over three and shows
no inclination to give up the diaper (more on that later), but all
in all I’m doing pretty well moving her forward.

There’s been one big milestone, though, that I’ve been
dreading ever since Maddie turned two – going to the dentist
for the first time. I didn’t wake up on her birthday dreading
it – believe me, the dentist wasn’t even on my radar
screen. But then Maddie unwrapped a present from my girlfriend
Abby: a book on going to the dentist, and an Elmo DVD where
Elmo’s thinking about the dentist that day. The enclosed note
– “Because you’re a big girl now, Maddie, and
will be going to the dentist soon!” – struck fear in my

How am I supposed to make my kid go to the
dentist when I don’t particularly enjoy it myself? How am I
supposed to explain to her that yes, it’s scary, and yes, it
hurts, but it’s good for you, so lie there and don’t
move? I wasn’t sure the best way to approach it, so I did
what any smart parent does.

I ignored it.

For a year.

But when Maddie’s third birthday rolled around and my new
pediatrician handed me a pediatric dentist’s phone number
without me asking for it, I knew I had to bite the bullet and get
it done. I called and made and appointment, for about a month
later, and spent the next month casually talking about it –
“Oh, Tuesday you start ballet, the next week you go to the
dentist, and the next week you start gymnastics!” Yesterday,
the big day arrived.

Up to the night before, Maddie seemed pretty ok with the idea. But
as she went to bed that night she confessed to her dad that she was
really nervous about the dentist. And when I went to get her up the
next morning, Maddie asked, “Do I have to go to the dentist
this morning?” When I replied yes, she burst into tears.

The whole morning Maddie insisted she wouldn’t go –
“Maybe tomorrow, Mommy” she kept saying. We cracked
open that Elmo video (thank you, Abby) and she allowed as how yes,
indeed, that didn’t look too bad. But she insisted she
wasn’t going.

Maddie went, of course; she’s an incredibly obedient child,
and when I explained that it wasn’t an option, but a
requirement for keeping her healthy, she knew she didn’t have
a choice and didn’t put up a fight. She packed carefully for
the trip, bringing her Silky, Madeline doll, and a choice selection
of books. We pulled into the parking lot and as I turned off the
car she said, “Are we here at the dentist?” “Yes,
puppy, we are.” She sighed, squared her shoulders, and got
out of the car.

I was incredibly nervous at how this whole thing would go;
remember, this is the girl who screamed for two days of swim
lessons. New and Unfamiliar are two words not high on
Maddie’s Favorite Vocab List. I had visions of her completely
falling apart: not losing it and kicking and screaming, since
that’s not her style; but simply whimpering, the tears
streaming down her face, her begging me to make it stop.

I forgot, though, that this is the girl who climbed up on the
doctor’s table, rolled up her sleeve, stuck out her arm, and
held still without a sound to give blood when she was two years
old. She trusts me, and in the end will do as I ask, believing
it’s for a good reason. And because that’s who she is,
she had a great visit with the dentist.

Yeah, that’s right, my daughter kicked some dental ass.

Part of the success is due to the pediatric practice – they
did everything right. As soon as we showed up we were ushered out
of the waiting room into an office with drawers full of videos.
Maddie chose one and settled down to watch Thomas in action while I
filled out all the intake forms. Genius, no? We stayed in the
office until the doctor showed up, introduced herself, and spoke
with Maddie. And from there we went to the chair.

I have to tell you, my heart beat faster as we walked into the
cleaning area; I’m not a huge fan of dentists, though I know
they are necessary, and the smell of burning enamel and the sound
of those little whirring drills makes me want to bolt for the front
door. But Maddie was watching, and I kept a reassuring smile on my
face the whole time. And in truth, it was a pretty cool place;
televisions in every area with movies running, fish tanks on all
sides of the chair, stuffed animals hanging over – I’d
like to get MY teeth cleaned there!

Maddie climbed into the chair and gripped the arm rests for dear
life as the chair started rising and leaning back, the blood
draining from her face. She quickly relaxed, though, when she was
allowed to pick out a pair of kid-sized sunglasses to shield her
eyes from the “spotlight”. The sight of my little girl,
stretched out in that giant chair, a pair of tropical fish
sunglasses on her face, is forever in the mental mommy file. Every
time her hands started to creep up to instinctively push the
hygienist out of her mouth, I’d remind Maddie to hold
Madeline Doll tight with both hands, because Madeline Doll was

From there the whole thing was a piece of cake. She allowed the
hygienist to count her teeth, clean them, floss, and brush on
fluoride “paint”. The hygienist was awesome, explaining
everything in kid lingo, calling the gauze “beach
towels” for her teeth. And when it was all over, Maddie was
given two tokens and told she could pick her “prize”
from three machines: one held rubber balls, one held necklaces, and
one held rings with lip gloss in them.

The hygienist was smart; she held off on x-rays, sensing Maddie was
about at the end of her rope and wanting Maddie to leave with a
good experience. So that we’ll save for next time. Meanwhile,
she’s acknowledged that she was brave, that it was scary
because it was unknown, but that the actual process wasn’t
scary and she’s proud of herself for doing it.

So am I.

And in case you’re wondering, my kid picked the ring with the
lip gloss in it – two prizes for the price of one. She spent
the rest of the day smearing that nasty purple lip gloss all over
her face. In fact, at some points, Maddie bore a striking
resemblance to my ninety-year-old grandmother, who is also known to
swing wide of the mouth sometimes when putting on lipstick. Maddie
insisted on wearing it to ballet class, and left a huge purple mark
on her tights where she inadvertently smeared it.

Ah the dentist – the gift that keeps on giving.


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