A guest post by Jeff Stimpson
The Cartoon Network blares over the chair from a TV to distract kids. This dental practice understands kid patients, I’ve learned over three or so appointments. They especially understand kid patients with special needs.
“Daddy’s right here with you,” the dentist says to Alex, who’s 13 and who had PDD-NOS and who hates the Cartoon Network. I consider asking if they can put on Elmo.
“Open wider, Alex.” I forget how we found this dentist, but on our first appointment he told us how he’d had a condition when he was younger and it gave him insight into kids like Alex.
This time, Alex won’t sit down, but jumps up to pick a penny toy from a nearby basket. “Go to the bathroom!” says the Big Staller.
“Hurry up, Alex,” I tell him in the bathroom. “The doctor is in a hurry…”
Back to the chair. “He’s crowded,” the dentist says of Alex’s jaw, “and his wisdom teeth will be coming in between ages 17 and 25.” Rapture.
The dentist braces Alex’s head with his forearm; Alex’s mouth is a tight oval, though I keep saying “Open wide like this, Alex!” and stretching my mouth into an elaborately huge maw. Alex lifts his shoulders off the dentist’s chair. “Kiss the straw,” the dentist tells Alex. The straw is the suction. We all know the whine of the suction, and Alex’s head pops far off the pillow and his legs pivot off the chair.
“He’s a lot stronger,” the dentist notes. The dentist sees no spots; spots are decay. Bad teeth, so far, is one mess Alex has dodged.
We used to take him to an agency’s dental clinic; the service was free and the doctors were great, but they changed every appointment. We figured Alex would be calmer if he saw the same face looming over the pick every six months. As his legs pivot farther off the chair, I wonder if the same face makes much difference.
The dentist touches the pick to Alex’s fingernail; Alex seems to accept the sensation. “It’s just going to be a little scraping. Just a little scraping. Open wide so I can see…” The dentist locks Alex’s head in his crooked arm and touches pick to teeth and gums while Alex keeps saying Nooooo!” I hold Alex’s wrists until the hands turn pink. After a few minutes I have to hold his hands tightly, then in a few more minutes I just have to hold his hands like I do when he’s going to sleep. Blood runs in red fangs between Alex’s teeth; I see yellow patches that not long ago must have been Utz Dark Special pretzels. “See that?” says the dentist, holding up the pick to let me see the red dot on the end. Gross. “That’s build-up. But overall he’s doing very well brushing.” I tell the doctor we’re also into flossing a little bit and use a fluoride rinse.
“Alex, you’ve gone through so much worse than this,” I say. As usual at the dentist’s, the guy sitting in the chair under the Cartoon Network doesn’t care.
About Jeff Stimpson
Jeff Stimpson is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, Fatherville.com, and The Autism Society news blog.