Jake hasn’t been to the dentist since he was 4. That visit was awful, to put it mildly. He wouldn’t open his mouth, he cried, screamed and tried to escape. I was a sweaty mess by the time we left. The dentist we chose was awesome and very accommodating. He tried everything to get Jake to open his mouth just so he could look at his teeth. In the end he was able to get a quick peak but only because Jake was crying. I tried to go back. I read Jake social stories, showed him pictures but to no avail. Anytime we drove by the dentist office Jake would scream and start thrashing in his seat.
Jake has lost 6 or 7 teeth. I knew he needed to go back and get his teeth cleaned and checked for cavities. I called on Tuesday and they had a cancellation the next day and offered me an appointment at 8 a.m.; I took it. His dentist moved their office to a new building so my prayer was that Jake would not remember the horrible visit and do better this time.
I told Jake about his dentist appointment and he cried and clamped down his mouth and said through clenched teeth “I not going, no way!” I showed him pictures of the different tools, showed him who his dentist is and prepared him as much as I could. Anxiety was taking over me and Jake.
At the dental office, they called Jake’s name where he walked back on his own; a victory in itself! They showed us to the chair where Jake would have his teeth cleaned. It was a flat chair with a TV overhead, I knew this might be a problem. The hygienist told Jake to lay down so she could look at his teeth. He said “no way”, tried to run away and screamed saying “no”. I had a death grip on him so he wouldn’t hurt himself or anyone else. I started sweating. They know about Jake’s autism, they see a lot of special needs children, which is why I picked them. I told the hygienist that unless I held him down, something I didn’t want to do, that it would be traumatizing for him. She was sweet but seemed unsure what to do. Fortunately, our dentist walked by and recognized us from 2 years before. He said “hold on, I am going to get you a private room with an actual dental chair where Jake can sit up.” I felt relief!
Jake and I walk into the private room and he seemed calmer. The hygienist was super sweet and after a lot of persuasion I was able to pick Jake up and put him in the chair. She told Jake she wanted to look at his teeth. He screamed. She showed him the different tooth paste and asked him which color he wanted and he said “blue, like at home”. Of course they had to run around and try to find the blue kind. After showing Jake the “toothbrush” he opened his mouth and she was able to count his teeth and give them a simple cleaning. She was soft-spoken and didn’t seem phased by Jake’s behaviors. She respected Jake’s boundaries, talked with him about what she was doing and worked with him to make him as comfortable as possible. By the time Jake’s dentist came in he was ready to go. But Dr. S. talked to Jake about his favorite movie, Toy Story, and Jake relaxed. Dr. S. wanted to look in his mouth but Jake said “no, thank you. I already did that”. He laughed and asked Jake if he would open his mouth just one more time, “can you do it for your buddy Buzz Lightyear?” (Jake had brought his toy along for company) Jake smiled and opened wide. Dr. S told Jake he was counting his teeth and talked a lot about Jake’s favorite movie, Toy Story. After Dr. S. had finished looking in his mouth he said “Jake, my buddy, thanks for being a big boy. You’re my favorite deputy”, a line from Toy Story. Jake had the biggest smile on his face. Right before Dr. S. walked out Jake said “thank you”, totally unprompted. Dr. S. stopped, gave me a thumbs up and asked Jake for a hug. Jake said “sure” and leaned in and let Dr. S. hug him; something Jake NEVER does with new people. He allowed the hygienist to hug him too. And we were done.
So glad that is over. But more than anything I am grateful for an awesome dental team that works, understands and accommodates kids like Jake. Although I was sweaty mess by the time we left, it was a positive experience and glad we were able to have Jake’s teeth checked. No cavities, his teeth look super healthy and we don’t have to go back for 6 months. Hallelujah!
When pediatric doctors go that extra mile for any child whether they are special needs or not, it means a great deal! Many of us have typical kids with quirks that make some situations hard. But when a doctor takes the time to become aware of autism or any other special need, it shows to me that they really love their job and the children they see. I’ve heard horror stories from other parents who have children similar to Jake. These parents have said that comments were made by the pediatric staff how they don’t ‘have time for this’. I understand it can be difficult. Heck, I live this life with my kid every day and there are many times where I think the same thing! But I admire and respect those that do have time for my “unruly” kid. I work hard to help Jake so he won’t be “unruly”. Sometimes his body just can’t help it. Pediatric doctors who take the time to read up on disabilities, who work with the parent and the child to make a not so pleasant visit the best it can be are truly heroes in my book.