By KARA EBERLE
Silence filled the car as I drove my 4-year-old to the dentist a few weeks ago.
My usually bubbly girl stared out the window as I drove up Interstate 83. Her frown spoke volumes.
I knew she didn’t want to go to the dentist. She had made that clear in the days leading up to the visit.
She had cried, screamed and thrown tantrums.
I tried to combat her anxiety by reading her a story about Elmo going to the dentist with Big Bad Wolf. We talked about how I love the dentist (I really do). And I assured her that the dentist just wanted to check her teeth and make them shiny and clean.
This wasn’t Mara’s first trip to the dentist. She has gone with me to almost every six-month checkup I’ve had since she was born, though I always had someone watch her in the waiting room while I got my teeth cleaned. A few times, she came back to see me in the examination room, and she seemed to be comfortable in the office.
About two years ago, I made Mara’s first appointment. On that visit, she wouldn’t leave the waiting room. My dental hygienist, Dulci, told me not to worry. She would try again on our next visit.
Three more visits went by, and Mara still wouldn’t get in the chair.
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During my last checkup, Dulci suggested that I not bring a babysitter to my appointment, which would mean Mara would have to be in the exam room with me.
I was skeptical about such a plan and worried that I would have to leave the dentist with floss hanging from my mouth and a bib around my neck when Mara melted down. But I forged ahead, because Mara was long overdue for her first checkup.
When we pulled into the parking lot, Mara broke her silence to whisper in my ear that she didn’t want to sit in the chair. But then she walked into the building without shedding a tear, which was progress.
When it was time for our appointment, Mara hesitated, but Dulci took control. She asked Mara what she wanted for Christmas and admired her long hair. Before I knew it, Mara was perched on a chair in the exam room, listening as Dulci explained everything she was doing to my teeth.
The plan worked! So far.
When Dulci was done with my teeth, she asked Mara if she wanted to sit on my lap in the chair. Mara resisted at first, but gave in with just a bit of coaxing. Then, before Mara could fuss, Dulci handed her some dental tools and explained how she would use them. Dulci even had children’s sunglasses for Mara to put on so the large examination light wouldn’t hurt her eyes.
I held my breath the whole time, just waiting for Mara to cry or throw herself on the floor. Instead, she opened up wide so Dulci could see all 20 baby teeth. When the exam was over, Dulci gave Mara a certificate, a new toothbrush and a pink-and-blue bouncy ball.
On the drive home, Mara couldn’t stop talking about her first successful trip to the dentist.
And the frown she had worn earlier was replaced by a perfectly healthy smile.
Kara Eberle is editor of Smart. Sign up for a free subscription to the magazine at www.smartmamapa.com/subscribe.