It had been several years since Em had seen a dentist. A couple of months ago, she said, “Mom, I’ve got a dark spot on my tooth that doesn’t go away, no matter how much I brush it.”
So I scheduled an appointment for x-rays, an exam, and cleaning. Sure enough, the little princess had three cavities. Two of them were in baby teeth that appeared to be ready to come out and the third was in a permanent molar.
The doc recommended we leave the two baby teeth alone and just fill the permanent tooth and we scheduled an appointment for it to be done today.
And here is where I feel a little bad.
I didn’t exactly go into details on how a tooth gets filled. I sort of glossed over the and now you get a shot of novocaine that burns like motherfucker going in part. And Em was excited, EXCITED today. She held my hand and skipped into the dentist’s office and I remember thinking, Perhaps I should warn her?
I had told her that parts of the procedure hurt, but it was important to hold still and it would get done and that there wouldn’t be any pain when they took out the cavity in the tooth, and just some weird numbness during and after.
So the time for the shot came and the dentist said he was going to “jiggle her cheek a bit and to hold real still.”
Her entire body stiffened as the injection started and I watched her fingers curl into the armrests and her eyes get panicked. The nurse had one hand on Em’s arm and the other on her chest, ready to hold her still if she needed to.
“Hang in there, baby. Hold real still.” I said to her, “It will be over very very soon. This is the hard part and you are almost done!”
The doc patted her hand, asked her if she was okay, and then excused himself to let the numbness take effect. I was left to face the betrayed, hurt look. This was not what she expected, not what she had imagined. I held her, wiped away her tears, and told her how good she had done.
“The rest of it is easy, baby. You won’t feel it – and you just have to hold still for the doc so he can get the bad part of the tooth out and the filling in. You have done SO WELL!”
And compared to me, or her older sister who would actually fight medical procedures at that age and younger, Em held still and did as she was told. Another ten minutes later and we were walking out of the building, fresh tears drying on her cheeks.
And Em has stated quite emphatically, that she would prefer to never go back to the dentist again. “They are very nice there, but I never want to do that again!”
What I found fascinating was our talk afterward, as we drove home. Specifically, Em’s understanding of long-term versus short-term.
She described how she held still and cooperated in every way in order for the procedure to be over and successful as quickly as possible. “I just wanted it done.”
At that age, I couldn’t imagine anything but the pain right then and escaping from it. Likewise, her sister seemed the same way. But understanding that you need to go through an experience, even a painful one, in order to get to the other side – that’s a huge step towards adulthood. As adults, we know there will be times when we have to do sucky things, endure pain or discomfort, in order for our lives to hopefully improve.
I was so proud of her for seeing this, accepting it, and then moving through an uncomfortable experience with expediency and no small amount of grace. Watching it made me imagine her as an adult, and wonder at what life choices she will make, and the unique person she will become.
Along the way, we learned some important life lessons like:
- When Mama says “Brush your teeth, or there will be consequences that you will not like,” you now know exactly what she means!
Em also understood that I hadn’t given her all of the details of what was going to happen because I didn’t want her to panic. I asked her afterward, “If I had told you that you were going to get a shot that burned like hell, would you have held still and let it happen?”
She laughed, “No!”
“Well, now you know why I didn’t actually say that. And I felt awful, especially when I saw your face as you were getting the shot.”
“Yeah, I understand why you didn’t tell me, but I was also kind of upset with you for not telling me at the same time.”
I gave her the rest of the day off from homeschool. And promised her a large ice cream shake for lunch. We don’t have crappy procedures like that every day, thank goodness, and I figured she could use a reward for being so amazing and mature.
“You know, I’m very proud of how you did in there, Em.”
“Thank you, Mama. I’m proud of me too!”
“Will you be better now about brushing your teeth?”
“Oh yeah, you bet I will! I don’t want to go back there anytime soon!”
My mission here is complete.