in which i am not always at my best

Office of _______ Pediatric Dentistry

Dear Parents:

In order to improve the chances of your child having a positive experience in our office, we are selective in our use of words. We try to avoid words that scare the child due to previous experiences. Please support us by NOT USING negative words that are often used for dental care. These include:

DON’T USE: needle or shot; INSTEAD: sleepy juice
DON’T USE: drill; INSTEAD: whistle
DON’T USE: drill on tooth; INSTEAD: clean a tooth
DON’T USE: pull or yank tooth; INSTEAD: wiggle a tooth out
DON’T USE: decay, cavity; INSTEAD: sugar bug
DON’T USE: examination; INSTEAD: count teeth
DON’T USE: tooth cleaning; INSTEAD: tickle teeth
DON’T USE: explorer; INSTEAD: toothpick
DON’T USE: rubber dam; INSTEAD: raincoat
DON’T USE: gas; INSTEAD: magic air

This will help you understand your child’s description of the filling experience. Our intention is not to “fool” the child – it is to create an experience that is positive. We appreciate your cooperation in helping us build a good attidude for your child!

Today I have been through something almost bigger than words. It was like having my world briefly torn in half and now I’m working on mending. To many, it might not seem like much. To me, the struggle I have now is in trying to write it all out concisely and accurately although there is no chance, really, of me forgetting it.

The above “Practice Terminology” was given to me almost three years ago when I first stared taking my children to a recommended pediatric dentist. The handout gave me pause – big time. But hey, I’m no dentist. After all, this was a highly-regarded pediatric practice (employing several people I personally know) absolutely posh compared to my childhood tooth doctor. The first appointments flew by and the kids were happy. Over the years I had no reason to reconsider our practitioners, even if I was a bit confused at the de rigueur application of nitrous oxide – whoops, “magic air” – and the times I’d pass a room and see adults looming over children and holding them firmly and speaking in STERN-VOICE. Fine, whatever; I hung out with my kids during the procedures – cleanings, x-rays, and fillings – and everything seemed fine and friendly and none of that unpleasantness was involved.

But today I got to see first-hand how the staff treats a child who wants to direct an aspect of their own care.

After cheerful and hilarious teeth-cleanings during which my children happily participated, Nels told me he understood he needed fillings – sorry, there isn’t a “whimsy word” for those – but that he didn’t want to have the rubber dam (“raincoat”) installed. He never wavered on this (I realize now) and the possibility of proceeding without one was never discussed by the staff.

Over the next forty minutes or so I watched as an increasingly unpleasant and confusing (to me) negotiation took place. Mostly this was done by grownups coming in the exam room and talking quickly, or at times sternly, or bargaining, all the while dialing up, and up, and up, the applied mask full of nitrous oxide (apparently there are no side effects to this?). The assistant began to speak faster and faster and crank the dial up and bribe him with extra quarter-vending toys (Seriously. What the hell? Maybe that works for some kids?) and plead a Trustworthiness my son obviously found unearned. In response to his questions about the “raincoat”, she’d tell him they weren’t talking about that now, just to lean back and open his mouth. Nels said, “I think you’re trying to trick me.” Then he pointed to the “raincoat” and said – “I can see it!”

It really would have been comical if it weren’t that, over time, he became more convinced that what I’ve told him all this time – “Remember Nels, it’s your body” – would not, in fact, be respected; that he would instead be forced to undergo something he found terrifying.

After a while Nels began to cry. He asked me to go home. He said, “I love you!” and held my neck. Even then I truly thought he’d change his mind (as he had when he voluntarily received vaccinations half a year ago – although then it was a far briefer episode of trepidation and he was not drugged during this event). Eventually I was asked out of the room by the dentist (asked nicely). In the hallway he assured me children did better without their parents (I’ll bet). He told me they wouldn’t physically hold down my child. Okay. Well, instead of retiring to the waiting room as they suggested (out of earshot) I stated my intention to sit right there outside.

And I sat down.

The dentist re-entered the exam room and for a long while I heard nothing. I called my husband on the phone and said some stuff. I hung up. Tears welled in my eyes as I looked out the window. A hygenist passed by, did a double-take, and asked, “Are you okay?” I shook my head and said No. She asked if she could get me something; I shook my head and said No. She silently handed me a box of tissues and I said Thank You.

Ten minutes later to my surprise the door opened and the members of the practice emerged. They were sort of laughing, but rather grimly. “That is a strong-willed little boy you have there,” the dentist said. He had conceded defeat but he wasn’t happy about it (like most practices they run a very tight schedule and, after all, he’d just had his time “wasted”). My son emerged and – even entirely looped-out on Novocain and nitrous – he was still himself. He was calm and sure.

See, he did not want a “raincoat”.

I realized the adults were entirely surprised at his resistance given the massive doses of gas administered and the two- (or three?)on-one adult treatment they’d done in that little room.

And I realized – at that moment –

I realized I’d sold him out.

But he’d prevailed anyway.

He is six years old.

While Nels wandered out into the waiting room the doctor talked words at me. I could hear him but I was also non-responsive, feeling the entire body-blow, the fact I’d betrayed my son and humiliated myself by failing my own strength. After a few minutes the roar of blood in my ears died down enough I could hear the doctor telling me that although my son said he would return later to get his fillings, it was a concern the same episode might happen again. The doctor told me about a medicine, an even stronger one, he could give my child. The dentist was smiling when he told me it was “kind of like giving a child a six-pack of beer”. Occasionally the medicine had the effect of making the patient angry. Of course parents couldn’t be in the room during the procedure. The staff needed to “focus” on the child. “There wasn’t enough room.”

My brain started working again as I paid attention to what the man was saying. At that point an assistant busied up to us. “Two Versed procedures, right?” she briskly asked the dentist, pushing blue forms at me to sign for the next visit. I signed them, knowing it was the easiest way for now. I thanked them for their time and acknowledged the missed opportunity they had. As my pen finished on the form the assistant just mentioned, is all, that children under sedation would get happy “floating” hands so they’d use these light straps to control the hands. And she pushed the blue forms at me. I have them here now. It makes me ill to read. “No food eight (8) hours prior to sedation…… we suggest bringing a change of clothes, since it is common for children to lose bladder control during a sedation… Keep your child’s head upright and slightly flexed backward…. papoose safety wrap may be determined necessary.

That fucking “wrap” is going to be used most every time because the child will be flailing in a nightmarish, horrible, drugged and fear-laden state and that’s why there is no way they’d let a parent see the procedure.

It was when the doctor spoke of the “kindness” of the medicine as having an “amnesiac” effect that I recognized the whiff of the horrific “Twilight Sleep” (and let me tell you what a total goddamned travesty it is how few articles delve into exactly what this really was; the pictures in this one give me the chills). And I was right, because when I got home – after Nels sweetly asked for cuddling and fell asleep, and while our daughter warmed up from our outdoor exertions – I looked up the medicine, and was horrified to read of experiences (verified by both user experience and the U.S. National Library of Medicine and lots of other places). At first I felt shocked a practitioner would so lightly ‘splain this medicine and gloss over the experience of patients. But later I felt only sadness: this man has performed such procedures on many, many children. It must be a part of his job he dislikes immensely – unless by now he is deadened to it all.

Almost tangentially – in what otherwise would have been the preoccupying subject of my day – they also recommended a tooth extraction and lower lingual arch for my daughter; she agreed to this and we’ve been discussing the treatment. After Nels’ experience I barely had room for this except to feel deeply grateful for both my children and both their abilities at self-validated choices. As far as Phoenix’s prognosis goes, she and I don’t know anything about extractions or devices worn by children, so I guess we need to do some research.

In the car I felt safe enough to sit quietly. Nels hummed to himself and sat on my lap. He asked me what they wanted to do next. I said, “They want to give you lots of drugs and tie you down.” Flatly, but almost in wonderment. Raw emotion passed over Nels’ face at this… then he said, “I never want to go there again.”

More power to those who take their children to this practice and are pleased with the results. I completely acknowledge the doctors’ intentions are good and many of their skillsets are impressive. Sheet of Liesâ„¢ aside, until today I’d had nothing but positive experiences.


My body memory now reminds me of a brutal hazing I saw in a movie once: pulling sheets over a slumbering person and beating them with socks full of oranges.


After our dentist visit I was due almost immediately for a rendezvous with our friends Steve and Kit – first we ate at Ace BBQ (unassuming website, delicious and inexpensive fare) and then a rather long nature walk at Tumwater Falls Park. In a short period of time I gained a semblance of “normal” and genuinely enjoyed the company of my friends, my children – and the lovely, wild falls – while my mind did me the kind service of dissociating from earlier events of the day, to later live them out.

And when I got home Ralph asked me for the full story of what had happened, when I was finally able to break down and cry.

Because you know, don’t you, what it was that scared me so much? It wasn’t that Nels was hurt and frightened. It was that I almost hurt and frightened him so much more before I came to my senses.

My husband respected me enough to confirm I’d let our children down today. I appreciate his honesty more than I can say. But then he told me something I hadn’t thought about. He told me I had created conditions that allowed them both to stand up today. Phoenix had autonomously selected her treatment today – knowing what her treatment would be – and on the drive home she crossly expressed annoyance at the Sheet of Lies(TM) (which made me smile). And then Ralph said, “Nels stood up to a a roomful of highly trained and educated medical professionals who’d drugged him and tried to force him to do something he didn’t want to do.

Or as Steve said only a few hours before, in appreciation as we climbed alongside the roaring falls: “Nels, that is pretty punk rock!”

25 thoughts on “in which i am not always at my best

  1. I am so sorry that you and Nels had to go through that. Dentists have made me so angry lately that I’m not surprised with what you encountered. Kylie and I haven’t had to deal with that level of attack yet (and yes, I do believe it to be an actual attack), but I’m sure the battle is coming.

    Our last experience was a few weeks ago. It was a basic exam like the previous good exams you described with one exception. They pulled a “don’t look at the man behind the curtain” routine that kinda pissed me off. They tried to play it off as random timing, but I could see it was planned. While the dentist gave me instructions, the assistant was scrubbing concentrated fluoride on Kylie’s teeth. They didn’t even bother to ask me if I wanted her to have the treatment. I certainly didn’t request it. Immediately, Kylie said it was burning and they waved her off saying that it would go away. She rinsed her mouth 5 or 6 times before we left and said it was still burning. The instructions were very specific: “She can eat but DO NOT brush her teeth until tonight.” Well fuck you doc. We live a quarter mile from the office, so I promptly took her home and brushed her teeth. The burning stopped.

    Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass what their schooling taught them. Unless it’s a medical emergency, dentistry is a service which means you ask the customer for permission before providing that service. I had fluoride rinses for years as a kid and my teeth are horrible. In fact, I am convinced that most of the discoloration was caused by those treatments.

    A friend of mine just had her 6-year-old break a molar and the dentist immediately suggested putting him under ANESTHESIA for the procedure of repairing his tooth as well as filling a few cavities…

    …nevermind. I’m just going off on a bad experience rant here.

    My point is that so many (but not all) doctors and dentists these days press on with “what’s best” for us without considering our concerns. The worst part is that a lot of the time I honestly believe they are guessing, “Let’s try this and see if it works.” I think a lot of it has to do with heavy regulation, insurance company restrictions and whatever quota they are trying to meet. The days of the doctors listening to us have moved on.

    The part that would be funny if it wasn’t so sad, is that they are treating us the way we are trying to avoid treating our kids. As you have said, like second class citizens. Nels wasn’t raised to respond to that pressure, and that makes him mighty in my book.

    P.S. I’m not trying to bash doctors and dentists. I have met some in the past that are very talented and skilled at their job. I just think a huge disconnect has formed between them and their patients in our modern world and it is a very bad thing. I won’t blame them for it, but the problem is still there.

  2. @Kidsync
    I think your comment is incredibly apt and spot-on. Like you allude, we have all known practitioners that are respectful, and most of them I’ve known genuinely believe they’re doing the right thing, they’re not a bunch of arrogant asses. One of the worst ‘pill-popper’ doctors I’ve had – who couldn’t remember my last treatment even with his notes on his knee – at least afforded me the respect of being a customer of his service. He genuinely liked talking theory and treatments (I think his lack of efficacy had to do with scheduling, much like I’m beginning to expect in this case).

    Unless it’s a medical emergency, dentistry is a service which means you ask the customer for permission before providing that service.

    This was a shock to me too – at times it felt like arrogance as they told me what form to sign and did things to my kids without explaining it to either of us. I had to be pretty active to even SEE what they were doing (besides caring what the hell is going on for my kids, I find medicine interesting and seek to learn more). In this practice’s case they are a very efficient scene and move things quickly (in moments I felt bad about how Nels “slowed” them up but… if they’re going to build a practice on obfuscations and non-consent not every patient will be down with that) and I think this design is what they think works best. And it might for other people’s kids, and I wish them the best.

    Thank you for your words. Today was surreal. I felt like the “overprotective mom” with the “bad kid” at times… then other times I looked at what went down and felt like I was taking crazy-pills. The jury is still out on my sanity at this point, but I feel very supported by your comments here and it means a lot.

  3. In my opinion, when the dentist’s office started ramping up the nitrous oxide in the face of Nels’ lack of consent that was patently wrong and potentially unethical, likely worthy of a provider complaint to the Department of Health. I don’t want to heap on more than you can chew, but how ethical would it have been for the doctor to ramp up nitrous on you while you and Ralph were discussing the pros and cons of an aspect of your treatment. If eventually dosed enough on nitrous that you verbally “agreed” to the once opposed procedure, would Ralph have viewed that as your consent? In sexual assault cases, one’s consent cannot be considered legal if it was coerced during a drug-induced state…

    I’m not familiar with the specific dentistry practice you send your children too, but E’s dentist doesn’t have the same philosophy about creating an untruthful but cuddly aura around visits and care. Parents are also invited in the room, and I can’t imagine them asking us out while they try to convince our vulnerable child to go against her feeling of personal safety, but I’ll check now that I’ve heard about your experience. We are always in the room with her and they have had to pass on taking X rays at three visits because she is not comfortable with them. They have respected her choice every time.

    I instantly started thinking about Twilight Sleep as I read Nels’ dentist’s description and am SO GLAD that you researched that medication further. I’m certain many parents simply follow the office protocol without full knowledge of what is actually happening to their child.

    Nels’ and that cavity have emerged intact to fight another day. Repair indeed is called for on all sides. Thank you for sharing this post so that we readers who have yet to face such dental/medical pressure can be more prepared to state and stand up for our children’s rights in health care.

  4. stay strong, kelly. and thank you for speaking up about this encounter. you are such an inspiration to me in so many ways – even and especially when talking about times in which you’re not at your best. we all have those times. and ralph’s right, of course. you continually reaffirm and create the environment where nels and phoenix can and do feel empowered to believe in themselves and believe that they know what they want and is best for them and that they have the power and strength to fight for it, should they need to.

    asking parents to leave the room is utter b.s. imho.

    you are *not* overprotective in my eyes. though i can very much empathize with feeling unsettled and not well and at odds with what a person thinks she thinks she should be doing, maybe, because that’s what the immediate surroundings suggest she should be doing, but really it doesn’t sit right in her heart of hearts, but oh jeez it’s so hard to tell because it’s confusing and pressing and too hard to think straight about it at the moment. even at the moment when she’s supposed to be advocating for someone else.

    so very much can empathize. i tell you this in case that’s at all close to what was going through your head and heart at the time.
    like a bumper sticker i saw once and liked very much says: ‘it’s no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.’ though it’s not always easy and fun to be unadjusted to the sick society if it’s the society you live in, to be sure.

    and as luckychrm said “Thank you for sharing this post so that we readers who have yet to face such dental/medical pressure can be more prepared to state and stand up for our children’s rights in health care.” exactly.

  5. ditto to what s* said.

    i have let dentists make bad choices on Eli’s ‘behalf’ before – i am still haunted by them but Eli has voiced complete forgiveness for my error so really i should too but, you know, feeling like i sold out my son in order for people to mess with his mouth – that shit is hard for me to let go – i hope you do a more thorough job of self-forgiveness than myself.

  6. We had a bad experience at the dentist also. Roxy needed 2 fillings and we accepted the “happy pill” (halcion a hypnotic sedative). It ended when Roxy FREAKED OUT. After the first filling she kicked the dentist in the throat with both feet. We gathered her up and she screamed all the way home. When we got home she took off all her clothes and lay screaming on the basement floor, not letting anyone near her, until she passed out. We went back for our 2nd appointment and refused the pill. We bribed her with a milkshake and she sat and cooperated and had her filling without incident.

    The office was reluctant to try the second filling without halcion but luckily they listened to us. I know you’ll be a strong advocate and get that tooth fixed in a way that works for Nels.

  7. I’m sorry you had such a terrible experience and you are right to be pissed off. I remember when my brother was little (a bit younger than Nels, I think) and he fell down some stairs. One tooth got damaged and the nerves died so it needed to be pulled before it abscessed. The dentist wouldn’t let my mom hold him while they pulled the tooth (I have no idea if he was even medicated) and I remember hearing him scream while we were in the waiting room. My mom cried the entire time. I only remember being scared peripherally so I can’t even imagine how awful you feel.

    Here’s the thing: dentists don’t have the same training as doctors. In my opinion, a pediatric practice has very little need, if any, to use Versed on its patients. This is the type of paralytic my husband uses on soldiers who need to be intubated. But my husband has had more training on paralytics than a dentist – who should have no call to use them. Period. Oral surgeons might have a need for it. But NOT a pediatric dentist.

    On the subject of extractions – I would get a second opinion. Maeve has a wonderful orthodontist who said that using a palette expander would eliminate the need to remove adult teeth – something that every dentist should want. She had a palette expander on top and on bottom for about a year. They have been removed and she now has 4 braces on top and 4 on bottom. In 2 months her teeth have gotten much straighter. The orthodontist told me that starting at 9 or 10 allows them to help kids grow into their teeth, which seems to me to be a whole lot smarter than taking teeth out because your jaw hasn’t kept pace with the number of teeth coming in.

    I think you’re on the search for new dental care.

  8. eek. I thought the rewording part was a joke at first, but I guess not. Lying to kids 101 – it creeps me out. When Boots asks me if something is going to hurt and I think it will I tell him so, and we talk about it, and so far, so good.
    I am sorry that you let your pal down, and I am glad that he was able to take care of himself. It seems like a useful thing in the long run for all of you though, and by extension, your readers.

  9. oh, and I have to say we’ve had a lot of tests and such that have been strongly recommended to us that we have not done, or done but not drugged Boots for and it’s always a fight and crazy to not drug him (for non painful procedures where a limp child is easier but not necessary).
    Now he gets no tests, though I guess if he had symptoms of brain issues (what we are supposed to be testing for inside and out) we might feel the need to return to that realm, but he would have to consent. The only reason I mention is that I have been in situations like that.

  10. Oh man, I’m horrified and grieving and sick-at-heart for you. Many kudos to Nels for maintaining the strength of character to continue to defend himself even when impaired. I can relate…halfway through a nightmare labor, I finally requested and received medication and then was bombarded by medical professionals doing all they could to “manage” what was happening to me quite against my protestations and objections. I have always been grateful for the presence and fierce advocacy of my husband, who fought back when I wasn’t in full command of my ability to do so.

    Sigh. How horrible. I want to hug all of you.

  11. I cried as I was reading this! My kids also feel empowered and know what they have done to them is up to them.

    I have gone through different things with my children and searched and searched for the right dentist and treatment for each situation. My daughter (when she was just 2 1/2) went to a ped dentist that suggested she have a pulpotomy and several fillings and said she’d need a papoose and I couldn’t be present. I found a different (holistic) dentist an hour a half away that said she only had one spot that needed a filling and the rest were just stains that could be watched. We felt so comfortable with him and decided to give it a go – My dd sat on my lap, my dh read Danny and the Dinosaur to her and the dentist took it slow, slow, explained everything in a normal (non-patronizing way) and was honest and so kind. I think he is just the best! She had no novacaine, but we did try homeopathic hypericum to help…don’t know if it worked, but it is sup to make teeth less sensitive. Our dd did just fine! Over time, some of the other spots either remained spots (and they went away when the baby teeth fell out) or she had sealant or a filling put in. The dentist always tried to buy us time knowing she was young and that in time it would be easier to do a filling.

    My son Li wants the answers to all of his questions. The dentists do their best to answer him. If he feels anxious, he either says he doesn’t want something done or he says he’ll try something and see. I back him up. I am extremely cautious about using drugs, even novacaine. (I still will not allow the dentist to use nitrous oxide….I read some things about that and don’t think it is okay – besides they so far do fine by talking and communicating with the dentist. If my child actually wanted it, I’d research it again and share the info with my child and then talk about the pros and cons and go from there.) My son’s first dentist was that kind one that was so patient and both my kids loved him! We moved though and found another good office, but not a holistic one. All was relatively well (I have to be firm about no flouride, no color and xrays when I say okay, not on their schedule which is too frequent). Then Li got a cavity drilled. He was about to get it filled when the machine used to mix the filling ingredients wigged him out. He couldn’t have any more done. He had a hole for a few months I think. Finally we found another dentist that my son liked (but I didn’t). Because I hovered near the office and refused to let them use nitrous oxide, they told me that we couldn’t come back to the office – apparently I wasn’t letting the “professional who has worked in dentistry for over 20 years” make the decisions. Damn right! My child. I am the paying customer! The dentist works for me. I always keep that in mind. It helps me remember who is in charge. I do consider what the dentist suggests, we communicate, but ulitmately, it is my choice what I have done to my body and my child must feel comfortable with what is being done to them too! Now we have this excellent dentist who communicates well with me and my son. My son did not want a novacaine last time. She agreed to give it a go without it. He did fine. She said a couple of her “patients” (I hate that word…I like “customer!”) don’t use novacaine and do fine. I like how she is willing to give it a go. Once he didn’t want the rubber dam (he dislikes that clip thing that goes around the tooth I think) and she used cotton. He wasn’t fond of the cotton, but something was necessary to keep the tooth dry and he did understand that. I was glad she was willing to give him a choice. It is hard to find a dentist who respects kids and listens to them and works with them. But if ever a dentist(even one we like now) doesn not live up to our needs, then a new search will begin. Heck, I’d travel back to that great dentist if I had to!

    Search for someone who seems a good fit…someone who respects kids and will work with them to meet their needs. There is someone out there that will work for you! You may need to interview several dentists first. Here are two groups that might be useful….

    Best of luck!

  12. I just went through a similar experience last night. K8 sent me the link to this post. When my son didn’t let them pull out his tooth (after two hours in the chair) they recommended the next step is putting him to sleep. I won’t do that after reading this post.

    They also used those silly words and my partner put the kibash on that. Telling everyone to use the correct name and describe it to my son.

    I agree that going to the dentist seems like a simple thing, but it can feel like reality is being ripped from us.

  13. I found Dr. Earnest to be a good dentist in Hoquiam. A bit pushy on procedures, but he DOES listen to you when you request not to have something done or have it done another way. It’s always worth talking them over there to see if they would be a good match for Nels & Sophie.

  14. Thank you all for the amazing comments.

    One reason I wrote this story out was for other parents to be led through my experience so they could be more aware if it happens to them and their child (or if it’s already happened; it’s never too late to change practitioners). To some readers it might sound drastic and horrid but I’ll bet this is happening to so many children while parents/carers are unaware or might feel vaguely unsettled but don’t believe they can do anything different – as luckychrm says, “I’m certain many parents simply follow the office protocol without full knowledge of what is actually happening to their child.”.

    I want to highlight the atmosphere of this dentist as being what that looks entirely cheerful and of course, they clearly have some skills. If a child is willing and game for the procedures it seems to go fine (altho’ the practitioners do not explain ANY alternatives to their recommended course of action and they are very FAST with the stuff they do). The whole appearance is professional and they hide away “trouble” patients or drug them and tell parents they can’t be there to see. It is my hope some grownups read here and remove their children from any dental care that isn’t serving the child properly – because as I am finding out, there ARE many, many other options (more in a minute). And for God’s sake, please don’t “leave the room” when your child is having their bodily autonomy violated. (hint, if your child happily opens their mouth, that’s not a violation; if they are unwilling and drugged to do so, that is). Don’t be fooled to think any and all work is an “emergency” that has to be done on the terms of a particular practitioner.

    There were a handful of other incidents from this visit I didn’t write out. One was when they put a retractor (or something similar, that’s another thing, they don’t want the parent or patient to know what’s going on at all and speak in code and quiet voices to one another) in Nels’ mouth – a device like a speculum to keep it open. And they cranked it and he started objecting and they kept cranking until he finally screamed. The dentist took it out and to my surprise leaned in and said angrily, “Nels, that was WAY TOO LOUD.” No one likes to hear a child’s piercing scream I guess but if a child objects and you don’t listen and keep doing something scary and painful and they scream louder – um, who’s the fucking idiot? (pardon my French)

    Secondly during the entire procedure Nels asked for water and they kept denying it to him (so like, 40 minutes of thirst). When he was done and the dentist was talking to me in the hallway Nels said firmly and a bit crossly, “I need some water,” and the dentist said in that angry fake-nice voice, “Why don’t you ask nicely, Bud?” I don’t feel especially protective when adults speak rudely to my kids because my kids are awesome and can handle it (although I do note rude behavior). But I thought it pretty amazing that in this worldview a child is supposed to submit to horrors and then be polite about it. “You’ll do it and you’ll like it.”

    Thank you for the recommendation. I am forming a little list of people and therapies to pursue. I have quite a lot of research and interviewing to do now! I appreciate your input.

    My mind is BLOWN on the consent issue! (and of course, in the US while we technically have laws supporting good models of consent, the public conversation still holds victims responsible for their abuse often, which of course re-victimizes those who’ve gone through trauma). I’m piecing it together that essentially to the rest of the country and physicians and whomever etc. my children are my “property”. They can do anything they want to while I’m watching (except hit them and leave a mark) or I can sign forms and leave and let them do whatever they need to without looking “behind the curtain”. This is all legal!

    You are right there are massive ethics violations occurring. And what amazes me is how much this is happening to so many children by (well-intentioned) parents who are just not tuned in!

    Thank you for your opinions on Versed and extractions. Phoenix did ask me to look into other options and I have, and you are right – it may not be necessary. I shudder that at their request I didn’t stick around to make her extraction process happen. I almost did. Frowny-face.

    Memories from my first birth were triggered. Very vulnerable, in pain, intimidated by the medical staff. I blame myself so much that I haven’t even decided to be angry. It’s too hard to be angry about it. Who would I be angry at? My second birth, at home, was tremendously healing… but I’ll never get my first one back.

    I joined the “alternative kids teeth” Yahoo group and have already received so very many different options and advice – also from AlwaysUnschooled group. In fact there have been so many great suggestions and alternative therapies and so many stories. I have been smiling the last day to think over the many options we have. Truly a wealth of information! Right now I’m looking for ways to interview and figure out which dentist will work for us.

    And finally, @Deb
    I can’t take away your pain or your self-recrimination regarding your son. I can only relate, not just from this story but from other times I have let my power be taken away such that I have let down my children. For instance my daughter’s birth, I avoided an epidural but I had both an intrathecal and stadol. A horrific drug nightmare I won’t go into now. My daughter was quite sluggish when she was born. They whisked her away and warmed her and patted her. I was so zoned out from the after-effects of drugs and the pain of 18+ hours of active and Pitocin-augmented labor I remember feeling only a vague sense of worry… I was not myself. Fortunately they gave her to me and there was no further incident I could observe.

    I’ve read stories about how drug-free babies get such a better start. I don’t know enough, at this point, to understand what happened to she and I but I *KNOW* she and I did not get a good start! Having my second drug-free birth and seeing and feeling and experiencing the difference I absolutely know I fucked-up on my first – and that the physicians, those I trusted to “know best”, did too. I don’t know what would have happened had I birthed at home or with proper support. It haunts me too.

    I hope you can forgive yourself because we all make mistakes. Also, we really do trust those TRAINED to know what’s best, and they do tell us lies when we are vulnerable. It’s quite unconscionable. I am in awe of those who keep their head under this kind of intimidation and pressure. My mom is a “do what the ‘expert’ says” type and apparently I’ve internalized that more than I realized. Thank goodness other ideas are out there from people who’ve been there, done that, and have wisdom and advice to offer.


    Thank you for everyone who commented. I look forward to reading what people write here.

  15. As the daughter of a dentist, and someone who has had a lot of dental work done, and as someone who has worked in more than one dental office, I always wonder if the drug-them-up approach is really the best. When it comes down to it, dental work *isn’t* that scary unless approached so (unless the child is having extensive work done, and even then…) and the last dentist I worked for never used any such meds, and I rarely even heard a child cry. I sat literally a few feet from the operatory and it did not have a door. Just novacaine and honesty, and that seemed to work well. Just because sedation meds are available doesn’t mean they’re the best idea, especially for children.

  16. @Amy
    I completely agree with your hypothesis. For instance in researching Versed (the “big gun” drug in question) the patients who’d voluntarily elected for the procedure usually (not always) experienced the drug as positive… whereas those who’d been involuntarily drugged (way more than we might guess, and of course including children) reported trauma.

    My childhood dentist – who had some questionable skills – was a “novocain and honesty” dentist and I don’t remember anything terrorizing. I never felt violated.

    Thanks for your comments!

  17. Also, I meant to say that if I read that list of “don’t-says” before I went to any dentist, I would run far far away from them. That is so deceptive and creepy. “Sleepy juice”? “Magic air”? That just doesn’t serve kids in any way.

  18. Ugh. This horrifies me. I was a child who had nine cavities before I even started kindergarten. Thankfully, I have no recollection of any bad memories of going to a dentist and getting fillings. I have been hesitant to take my daughter to a dentist. I’m not all that great about her dental hygiene. I mean, brushing teeth isn’t a solid routine. Her dad also has terrible problems with his teeth, so I’m worried that the ones that are already coming in crooked will be cause for…fixing.

    My daughter also had surgery this summer to get her adenoids taken out and ear tubes put in. Although I am thankful that I decided to get this procedure done, the mentioning (and learning about) the Versed is a scary notion. I know they didn’t give her any while I was with her, but I wonder now. They cautioned that children waking up from anesthesia are confused and angry. I was warned of this:

    “Emergence Delirium: Some cry, thrash, arch their back, reach out and seem inconsolable, even when they are in their parents’ arms. This behavior is not usually related to pain, and children do not usually remember it. This restless or irritable behavior is known as “emergence delirium”. About one third of young children who have brief procedures experience emergence delirium. It may occur in children of any age, even after procedures that require a longer time under anesthesia. Emergence delirium may be upsetting for parents to see, but be assured that it will go away. Sometimes it lasts about 10 minutes; other times it may last up to an hour or longer.”

    There was never any mentioning of a drug to relax her, though. She has a check-up due, and I should ask. When coming out of the anesthesia, she just wanted the IV out and demanded juice. She wanted to be held, and I think was just upset that so many people were messing with her. As a parent, I felt like we were rushed out of there. My child was so sick that she was vomiting mucus, and the surgeon took my anxiety about that to mean that I didn’t want the surgery, and he seemed annoyed. I remember standing in the parking lot for quite some time with her, just holding her a little longer before putting her in the car seat. But these were the only parts I thought were strange. There was a child in the next room that was screaming the entire time I was there.

    Your experience, however, is awful. I don’t know why they wouldn’t do the damned filling without the “raincoat.” (which I googled and can understand why he hates it!) I also have no idea why it would be normal to drug your child for such simple procedures that we all had to go through without the “wonders” of heavy narcotics when we were children! I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. It really seems like they were being jerks and not answering his questions…which, I guess, is their forte. Good luck in your search for a new dentist.

  19. ** I meant she was sick and vomiting mucus before the surgery. Not from anxiety, she was just really sick. I was told if she had a cold they wouldn’t do the surgery, so it was a complete shock to me that they decided to do it. Which, in hindsight, was probably a good thing, because I didn’t have time to freak out about the whole ordeal.

  20. @Stephanie
    Do join up the abovementioned Yahoo groups because there are SO MANY parents with kids who have dental issues much more severe than the ones yet evidenced by my kids – the state of one’s teeth is related to diet, oral hygiene, heredity, illness, injury, conditions in utero – the list goes on and the factors aren’t JUST about brushing and flossing (I liked the many anecdotes at Joyfully Rejoicing too). Anyway the folks on these sites have tons of experience including looking for dentists that better fit, and all sorts of alternative practices your typical dentist will likely never bring up. It never hurts to get lots of opinions and lots of information.

    I’m glad you and your daughter made it through the surgery. I think “emergence delirium” is a common enough thing and just because someone doesn’t remember it doesn’t mean it wasn’t traumatic for their mind and body! From here on out I will be asking exactly what medicines will be going in my body or my childrens’ and I will be doing some research every time.

    Usually there’s no reason not to take things slow(er than medical personnel recommend) and do some research, find a second opinion, etc.

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