Sam’s Trip to the Dentist

The morning started out promising.

We practiced saying “Open wide!” We pretended to check our teeth with the reflection of a small silver spoon. I massaged his cheeks and rumpled his hair to try to desensitize his head. We read a story about a brother and a sister’s trip to the dentist and then Sam pulled out his markers and paper and made his own going-to-the-dentist book. After stapling it, he held it proudly and told me he was ready to go for his first visit.

A few weeks ago, I took him with his brother to meet Dr. P. School was out and John had an appointment — I thought that he could get a feel for the office and chairs and waiting room. He watched as Dr. P. examined John’s teeth and seemed calm even when John whined a bit. He admired the colorful murals on the walls and called everyone from the receptionist to the hygienist “Mister Dentist Person”. I checked out the ASA’s tips on going to the dentist and thought we were as prepared as we could possibly be.

When we pulled into the parking lot he said I don’t want to go to the dentist anymore. I ignored him, of course, and parked the car. Even as he repeated this refrain over and over, he still walked by my side. When we got to the door, he tugged my hand, but walked in behind me. The waiting room was empty and full of books and things to look at, but even so, I paused when they gave me a clipboard of paperwork to fill out. I wasn’t so sure I should take my eyes off him.

I was about halfway through the first form when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him open the door. I jumped up, startling the mother and two young children who had since joined us. “Sam!” I said. I’m waiting at the car, he said, slipping out. Grabbing his hand, I lead him back inside just in time to hear the hygienist call our name. I pulled him to one of the interior rooms which was decorated in a space theme. Score! The perfect environment to distract him, I thought. Planets, space ships, rockets, moons and stars.

He went straight to the corner and stood facing the wall. I watched as he squinted his eyes and said, No dentist today! By now, our dentist, Dr. P. had entered and she began the slow dance of trying to win him over. “What flavor gloves would you like? Cherry? Strawberry? Do you want a toy car? a sticker? three stickers? Why don’t you sit on Mommy’s lap? Can you open wide?”

It quickly became apparent that this would be more than a two-person job. It took four grown women to hold him down just to have his teeth brushed. If only he could have stopped screaming long enough to breathe. If only he could have taken a deep enough breath to realize that it didn’t hurt, well…then I wouldn’t have a story, I guess. When she was done and pronounced his teeth to be in spectacular health, he admonished her You hurt my teeth! “I’m sorry,” she said, “next time you need to hold still and it won’t hurt at all.” Next time, he yelped, you need to do my teeth a different way.

“Yes,” she replied.

And see that Uranus (a sticker on the far wall)? It needs to go over here with the other planets like Saturn…and Jupiter… and Pluto… Can you move it please?

“I will get another Uranus sticker and put it where it belongs for next time. Are we ready for our x-rays?”

I should have immediately vetoed that idea, but since we were there, and really — how much worse could it be — we sat strapped together in the dentist chair with our radioactive “space bibs” that were just enough to push Sam over the edge. Before I could react or remove the heavy cloak off of me, he slid off my lap, flew to the door, then to the second door leading to the waiting room, and then, unbelievably, to the outer door. I’m sure the sight of me and two white coats in hot pursuit helped whip up his speed.

By the time we reached him, he was halfway back to the car and sobbing. As we drove away (the dentist helpfully brought me my purse and said to not worry about x-rays this visit), he yelled between sobs, I did it Mommy! I went to the dentist!

Yes, baby. Yes, you did.

No one can convince me this child is not on the spectrum, despite all evidence to the contrary.


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  • Oh, your poor little guy. (And poor you, too.) I’m so sorry. However, I love that he still objected to the incorrect solar system. Famous last words: how much worse could it be?

    Quinn’s first trip to the dentist, he refused to get anywhere near her. He wouldn’t even let her look in his mouth from across the room. Fortunately I had two other compliant kids and the dentist didn’t charge us for Quinn’s non-used appointment. His second trip he let her clean his teeth.

  • Ack — yup, I’ve had a similar dentist trip. Love the affirmation afterward, because of course he is proud that he did it!

    In our experience, subsequent visits to previously new things are fine. It is just that initial NEW thing (classic spectrum!) that makes a difference – then thereafter “Hey, remember you did it last time?!”

    (In our case, the dentist told us that my son would have to be sedated at the cost of $800 to do dental work given his reaction to his first-ever visit – but he was essentially fine thereafter, so we shouldn’t have had to do something so extreme – and expensive!)

    As for those doctors who don’t think he is on the spectrum – well, it is so frustrating with such a narrow view of what spectrum-like behavior is – what it means, whether it warrants a label, etc.

    Sam is like my son in that the “high functioning” is a double-edged sword: sometimes exceptionally neurotypical, and then other times those “pesky” quirky behaviors show up. But it is all the same person. Standards are different than “regular” kids, but also different than “disabled” kids.

    That has got to be the #1 misperception about spectrum disorders: people expect something much more “affected” when they hear “autism” and when they see the “good day” kid, they can’t believe the “bad day” kid exists. Flip side: if they see the “bad day” kid, they assume the child is severely limited, and at all times.

    Sorry for the long comment — both the memory of our negative dentist visits and the “erase the diagnosis” issue (that happened to us as well – doctor struck it off my son’s chart!) have really hit a nerve with me.


  • Good grief! And he didn’t even have a cavity! What’s he going to do when the drill comes out?
    I hope you had yourself a nice big glass of adult beverage after that circus.


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