Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Trip to the Dentist

No autism blog would be complete without a section on dentistry.

Here's one and here and here. For autism moms, dentist stories might be the equivalent of childbirth stories for other women or war stories for men a generation ago.  We all have at least one and tell it like a badge of honor or a rite of passage into the ranks. The difficulty achieving basic dental care is one of the many, many things I never imagined I'd be dealing with like potty training a teenager or soundproofing my house so my neighbors don't call CPS. Compromising positions which take "character building" to an Olympic level. Incidents we know are unconscionable to most yet, totally understandable to us; they go with the autism turf. 

So, here is one of mine. We switched from my beloved dentist to a pediatric dentist recently in order to better serve Reid's needs. The new dentist has a pimped out office with ocean murals, flat screens in the ceiling and a Blockbuster selection of DVD's and video games in the waiting room.  Even with all that--perhaps because of all of that--Reid was unable to hold still enough for long enough to get the amount of sealants and work done that had accumulated in the years that we'd been trial and erroring it with my patient, prayerful hygienist.  So Dr. Ocean Dentist for Kids got the job of referring us to Children's Hospital for the full treatment under full anesthesia.

We survived that and I will disclose full details in a longer post later.  For now, let me describe the more recent check up that followed back in his deluxe office by the beach.

Like any good mother, the night before the appointment I was flossing his teeth and what to my wondering eyes did appear but, two chipped teeth! The bottom two, right in the center. Horror of horrors! How did this happen? When did it happen? What's to be done? Oh no! not this! Caps? More anesthesia? What will this mean ?

To answer the "how" question, I didn't have to wonder too hard. Reid chews, a lot. Whether to relieve stress, receive proprioception or just test the strength of his teeth, I don't know (that would be the why question). He just does. Any number of things could have been the culprit. Hard objects, like buttons off every single polo shirt, rugby shirt and even some pants we own. His old school allowed gum chewing as a compensation which was not ideal since he swallows it. At age 14 though, the new school deemed the chew toys totally not age appropriate and the gum-in-school rule totally not bendable.  So, he is learning--the hard way--to just not chew.  Last year, we went through one shirt a day, literally. I began to shop at thrift stores moving to the second "R" in our mantra, reduce, re-use, recycle. Unable to reduce the number of shirts we were consuming, I could at least re-use ones already manufactured and not put an unfair drain on the sweat shop labor of Taiwan. At $4 a shirt, it was costing us more than a Starbucks fix.

Reid tests his teeth on other materials besides fabric: pen caps, ink pen chambers, plastic packaging, Unifix cubes, marker tops, pencils, credit cards, bottle caps. He has Crocodile Dundee beat. So, I knew not when but, could easily imagine how the bottom teeth had chipped.

To save my pride at least momentarily, I decided to wait before divulging this information to the hygienist. I'd wait and see if she noticed. She was new. Emerging from the aquatic hallway to debrief with me afterward, she seemed to think she "got a lot of work done." Is it ever as much as my daughter gets? Ever a full cleaning? "He has more calculus than plaque", she shared. I have gone to a dentist twice a year for my entire life and I have no idea what calculus is. Is this "new dentistry" like new math and I have to pick up a new lexicon. Or is it metric? 

I asked, but even the answer didn't make sense. I decided she was young and on new turf. Perhaps she couldn't translate her jargon into my plain old English. When I brought up the chipped teeth (secretly hoping they would have spontaneously healed by then) she launched into another foreign diatribe (I know some big words too, missy) about # 8 and 9 being affected......blah blah blah...subcutaneous... I missed a lot of it before asking, "Which ones are 8 and 9?" "The two front teeth," she says. There's hope for her yet.

When I explained my best guess of how the teeth had gotten chipped, her inane self-evident reply was, "that's not a good idea. You shouldn't let him do that." It was then I realized she must not have kids, of any age, or any kind. She must never have babysat or had a younger cousin. Do I look stupid? Obviously, this is bigger than simply being told it isn't a good idea. OK, are you related to the rental agent at Hatteras Realty? What part of autism don't you get?! Did you read in his chart about the recent need for full anesthesia? Did you notice he's a teenager? You honestly think my telling him its not a good idea is going to have any impact? What other light can you shed on my task of parenting?

In God's infinite grace, there was a boy about the same age in the waiting room admiring saltwater fish with me. He had chipped 4 of his teeth by jumping into a pool. (This is a normal kid, no label that I could discern.) His mother and I commiserated over the sick feeling of seeing chips on our babies' precious grown up teeth that are supposed to last them their whole life. Ugggh! Her son smiled to reveal his and I honestly couldn't notice. The dentist and hygienist concluded, "we'll keep an eye on them and maybe later (for another office visit fee) add some composite." The problem was only cosmetic. The solution was too and would likely "chip again anytime he bites something hard." Like a cell phone antenna? I wondered silently.

Thanks for listening to the latent anger. I weary of being polite. With the optimism of inexperience, the young hygienist's final move was to schedule another sealant and attempt it in the office (as opposed to in hospital). Now that's progress!  And I could grow to love her!

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
James 4:5-7

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.
John 1:15-17

Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us, for we have endured much contempt.
Psalm 123:2

photo credits: www.geekroar.com, www.theraproducts.com


  1. Switching from a regular adult dentist to a pediatric dentist is a good move. Especially if your kid has autism or ADHD. They are trained to handle special children in a very special and professional way. They know how to restrain kids, or to make them retain in manner during check-up time. I smiled when I read about the pimped office. I imagined the kiddie drawing on the wall, the toys and everything. There are dentists in Hixson that do the same thing in order to capture the kid's attention and to achieve a certain interest to the clinic. Kids will be kids. Artwork, toys and cartoons are still the best and proven way to keep them on coming back.
    I am so proud of you. Raising a child with autism needs more understanding and love.
    Thanks, and I love your blog.

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