Sunday, February 18, 2018

Dentist Appointment

Last week, we took Alex to the dentist for his regular six-month cleaning and check-up appointment. Although he usually likes going to the dentist, his recent anxiety about going places had us concerned how he might react this time. Unlike some people who fear going to the dentist, Alex has had good experiences through the years and actually looks forward to his dental visits. The dental hygienist who has cleaned his teeth the past few years is especially sweet and patient with him, and her encouragement and praise make him eager to cooperate with her.

As with all of his appointments, I am careful to schedule a time that works best for Alex. For some doctors, we schedule Alex’s appointments first thing in the morning to avoid having to wait, which is more common in the afternoon. We try to avoid times when he might miss his beloved game shows, The Price Is Right or Jeopardy, and we avoid appointments that might overlap meal times. We also need to schedule around his regular behavioral and music therapy sessions because he doesn’t want to miss them. Working around Alex’s sacred schedule allows small windows of times in the morning and afternoon, but we manage to keep him happy.

For his dentist appointment, he didn’t have to sit in the waiting room but a few minutes before his dental hygienist came to greet him. Immediately, he happily jumped up and followed her back to the room where his teeth would be cleaned and checked—so far, so good. (We were even thrilled that he got into and out of our car without being coaxed.) Once he was seated in the dentist’s chair, his hygienist began putting on the paper bib to protect his clothes as she cleaned his teeth. She warned him that the metal chain that holds the bib might be a little cold on the back of his neck. As soon as he felt the chain against his neck, he decided it was too cold and decided he wanted nothing to do with the bib, pulling it off the chain and handing it to me. I assured him that he didn’t have to wear the bib and assured her that his shirt could be washed if anything spilled on it.

While the hygienist was preparing to clean Alex’s teeth, she chatted with him and tried to make sure he was comfortable, even asking if the light bothered him (probably knowing that the bib did), but he told her the light was fine. However, he was a little shaky, and she gently patted him on the shoulder and asked him if he was okay. Calmly, he admitted he was a little nervous. While Alex used to utilize a series of calm down skills, he now prefers only two options when he’s anxious: sit quietly or talk about his concerns. Consequently, I asked him if he wanted to talk or be quiet. He said he wanted to sit quietly and needed two minutes to calm down. Despite his nerves, he seemed to be in good control of his emotions.

Knowing that Alex literally meant he needed exactly two minutes, I figured this would give his hygienist time to note his medication reductions on his chart, so I gave her a copy of his updated medication dosages. Also, I asked her if she could put on the country music cable channel on the television after asking Alex if he would like some music. Clearly, Alex was regaining his composure in that short amount of time, as he stopped shaking and he visibly relaxed, even starting to sing along softly to the music. At the end of the two minutes, he announced that he was ready to have his teeth cleaned. He knew.

During the cleaning, Alex was calm and cooperative, answering any questions she asked him. Concerned for his comfort and attentive to his needs, she told him each step of the process and gave him choices to make him feel in control of the situation. For example, she asked him if he wanted her to spray his teeth with water or to drink from a cup himself. Usually, he doesn’t mind the water hose and suction, but he asked for a cup of water to rinse instead. Because of his sensory defensiveness, we always have to coax him to open his mouth wider, but he was cooperative, and she was able to clean his teeth successfully. Fortunately, Alex’s good daily dental hygiene habit of faithfully brushing his teeth twice a day with a sonic electric toothbrush pays off in that he had very little plaque that needed to be removed. When she was done, she enthusiastically praised him for doing such a great job. I think she was especially impressed––as was I––that he pulled himself together so nicely even though he started the session with some trepidation.

As we waited for the dentist to come and check Alex’s teeth, his hygienist asked him if he had any questions for her. He immediately asked her if he had any cavities. She told him that she didn’t see any, but the dentist would check that for him. While the dentist checked Alex’s teeth, his hygienist sang Alex’s praises, telling what a good job he did cleaning his teeth daily and how well he had cooperated as she cleaned his teeth. This seemed to make Alex (and certainly his mother) proud. After the dentist examined Alex’s teeth, he stated that everything looked good, there were no cavities, and he would see Alex again in August for his next six-month check-up.

Despite any fears Alex had about going to the dentist, or for that matter, any fears we had about taking him to the dentist, everything went remarkably smoothly. Even though he was a bit anxious, we were proud of the way he handled himself, never getting upset, calmly admitting his nervousness, and quickly calming himself so that he could do what needed to be done. Needless to say, his behavioral therapist, who has taught him many ways to cope with anxiety, was delighted to hear how well he had dealt with his nerves at the dentist. Of course, we were not only pleased with how well Alex coped at the dentist, but also with getting a good report that his teeth are healthy. Once again, we find ourselves grateful to God for the progress Alex continues to make in dealing with anxiety and for the kindhearted people who work with Alex and bring out the best in him. Most of all, we are thankful for Alex’s faith in God that helps him fight his fears, knowing that God watches over him and brings him the calm he needs whenever life overwhelms him.

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17

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