Autism and Dentistry Don’t Go Together

“Woooo, wooo, woooo, wooooooOOOOO! You guys gotta tell me everything you’re gonna do. If he feels any pain he’s gonna freak out and this will be the last dentist visit.” That’s the main thing I remember from yesterday’s dental appointment for my son. I saw something that looked like a needle and it was going into his mouth. I began to freak out.

This dental appointment wasn’t for cavities or anything, it was just preventative care. Braden was getting sealant put on his top molars. He’s 8, has autism, and this was only his second dental appointment where they were doing anything other than examining his teeth. A few months ago we took him in to get his teeth cleaned for the first time. Now they were sticking a bunch of different items in his mouth at once; suction, water, air, and stuff I can’t explain. For me, as Braden’s Dad, it was an emotional experience because I wasn’t sure what to expect from my son.

All dental tools look like torture devices to me. And the chairs look like execution chairs. I can’t say I’m a big fan of going to the dentist. It’s never pleasurable. Maybe I watched too many horror movies in my 20’s.

Follow up:

Dentist appointments are one of the things Dad handles without Mom. That’s how it is in our house anyways. For dental appointments it’s just Dad and son. Dad (that’s me) also handles a couple other things solo;brushing & flossing Braden’s teeth, trimming his nails, and playing with his toys with him. Braden only likes to play toys with Dad. Oh, and naturally I’m the main man behind helping him take a whizzzz standing up. Aiming from the hip comes naturally to men.

Back to the topic of yesterday’s dental appointment; When we first walked into the office at the County Community Health center Braden knew the routine. He sat down patiently in a chair and just waited. I can’t explain why he’s so content to sit there and wait in the dentist’s office, but at home he doesn’t wait a second without being antsy.

When his name was called (and they always mispronounce his name as “Braid in”) me and him got up. “Room 3,” says the hygienist. She has a soft voice and tender demeanor and reminds me of Dr. Marvin’s wife,Fay Marvin, from the movie What About Bob?. As we go down the narrow hallway I show Braden where the room numbers are located on the wall. “Look, here’s 2. But your room is 3,” I remind him.

When the hygienist says, “How are you doing today?” Braden displays classic echolalia, repeating what she said verbatim. We don’t hear much echolalia at home, but all of a sudden he’s a parrot. When the hygienist says, “My name’s Christi, what’s yours?” Braden gets half way through repeating it before I interrupt him and help him out. I model the words that he should be saying and he catches on, repeating what I said, “Hi, I’m Braden.” I don’t know why he started repeating things. Maybe it was still a new environment to him and he didn’t know how to act. Maybe he was just too busy checking out all the stuff in the dentist office. I don’t know, but it bothered me and I felt a little injection of emotion.

Couple that surge of emotion with the emotion I already felt from being in the dentist office and not knowing what to expect from my son. Then add in Christi’s ultra calm demeanor and I was on edge, an emotional edge.

I told my wife about Christi’s demeanor later on after we got home. Mom thinks that maybe she just talks like that to every kid. Yes, that’s a possibility. But I guess I just felt like she was “babying” Braden and not talking to him like he was an 8-year-old. I like Christi, but it bothered me how she was talking to him. I didn’t want to offend her, so I didn’t say anything to her.

When the dentist chair was reclined to the point that his feet were higher than his head, Braden became a bit uneasy. We scooted him down in the seat and coaxed him to rest his head on the headrest. Then, when they put the different “dental devices” into his mouth, first one then another then another, I noticed his feet come up and he was pointing his toes. He was obviously a little uneasy, but he was cooperating. He was cooperating the whole time. He kept his mouth open wide though Christi and her assistant had to remind him often.

I don’t think Braden knew that he can swallow with his mouth still open. I’m still not sure he knows that. But he may have had to do it yesterday. I didn’t know if he’d freak out about that or not. But he was cool.

He never freaked out and he now has sealant on his top molars. That will help prevent cavities. Yes, I freaked out. That little thing with the needle-like tip is the dohickie the sealant comes out of. I didn’t know. But, if it had been a syringe and they poked it into Braden’s gum line that would’ve been the end. I don’t think they understood that. They don’t understand what a terrible autism meltdown is, and they don’t understand how that meltdown would’ve become standard procedure whenever we mentioned to Braden that he had a dentist appointment to go to.

Well, I can rest easy. For now. And we’re going to continue to brush and floss his teeth every night so we can avoid the dentist as much as possible. Cavities are the enemy and we’re fighting with all we got. Getting sealant put on Braden’s molars is enough to cope with. But needles and pain and all the other stuff associated with dentistry is not something we want Braden to know about. Hey, ignorance is bliss sometimes, aint it?