Shortly after Alice was born, I made a beeline to a bookstore to stock up on books about Down syndrome. The internet was still in relative infancy and there were not a lot of reliable resources to look into. Books were and still are a fine resource. In the future I will probably put together a whole article about that, but today is not that day. One of the better books had a whole section on health issues and included this phrase about teeth: “may come in late and in unusual order.”
For Alice, this was absolutely the case. Her teeth came in way late and didn’t start with the usual top and bottom front two. It has also carried through. At 14, in her most recent trip to the dentist we were told, “we’ll make an appointment for pulling and if they come out before then you can cancel the appointment.” Keeping in mind that Alice had had 8 previous baby teeth pulled, I felt it prudent to keep the appointment no matter what. Alice did lose two teeth in the intervening time, but it wasn’t clear that these were the ones.
This morning, I took her in. In the car, Alice said, “hard tools”. OK – that’s a weird phrase. “which hard tools, Alice?” “the dentist.” “What about the dentist’s hard tools?” “Daddy, I’m scared of the dentist’s hard tools.”
For Alice, this is astounding. She has a wheelhouse of topics which include, movies, tv shows, friends, ballet performances and so on. This was so far out of that conversational comfort zone, that I knew it was important to honor it. So how do you handle this? Simple, like any other kid. You acknowledge the fear and then put it into a tangible realistic context for them. “Oh, I see! You’re scared of the dentist’s tools. You’re right – sometimes the tools can hurt, but you know the dentist and you know that she likes you very much and doesn’t want to see you hurt, so she’s going to be so careful with you, OK?” “OK, daddy. I do that.” That reply doesn’t make sense on its own, but in Alice speak it’s an acknowledgement and in internalization of what you said.
So when Alice was getting prepped, I let the hygienist know what was going on and I repeated it for the dentist as well. The dentist came in and looked Alice over and found that she had lost the two teeth that she was worried about, so she took a moment to gently poke around and found that there are 5 other teeth that are on their way, but no worries – we’ll just check them at the next appointment. Alice was very happy.
I dropped her off at school and just before, I asked her if she wanted to go in on her own or have me go in with her. “On my own. I’m fine, daddy.”
And you know what? She was. She got out, put on her back pack and walked to the front door on her own, which is fantastic.