Turning a dentist visit into an educational experience for my son

My son wearing UV glasses watching papa getting two crowns removed, drilled and prepped at dentist.

My son wearing UV glasses watching papa getting two crowns removed, drilled and prepped at dentist.

I brought my six year old son to my dentist appointment today. Of course, he's had several dentist visits already; Basic exams, cleanings, etc. at his pediatric dentist.

Today's visit was different. Today I had two crown replacements scheduled. For those that don't know what that is: Some 20-25 years ago I had a couple pretty bad decay and cavities that were serious enough where they had to drill the entire top of the tooth off. I was actually pretty lucky back then.  There was enough healthy tooth left where they could "crown" it, basically gluing an artificial top to the tooth.

The problem is, over many years (I'm in my 40s now), a bunch of changes lead to a maintenance issue. First, the technology: The crowns can actually come loose over many years, and possibly 'leak'.  This didn't happen, thank goodness. But the bigger issue is that the older you get, the more your gums tend to recede (it's normal) and that means little gaps form, and brushing and flossing gets less effective, and decay can actually start up again on the edge of the healthy tooth still exposed.  And the decay can work it's way inside the tooth.  This is super bad if it's not caught.  It's like having an awesome solid roof on a building that's termite infested- and eventually the entire building can collapse.  I had this happen several years ago and had to get a titanium implant- that's another story.  Trust me, you don't want to go there.

So this year, together with my awesome dentist, we looked at my mouth and smile differently and decided we'll get the old crowns proactively replaced. Right?  I'm actually subjecting myself to it. Yeah! Bring it on. Drill me.

And that brings me to the opportunity I saw a few weeks ago. Why I decided to take my son to watch me get poked and drilled.

My oldest son, now six, has a killer smile.  I mean it- he's a looker (I'm a doting papa, 溺愛パパだね。。. And he's also lucky. Some little three year old girl pushed him off a jungle gym pretty violently when he was three (I was there) and he landed teeth first against some pole or whatnot. He was lucky because, over the next few months, the living root inside of his tooth died, and calcified turning into bone.  He still has all his baby teeth, and one of the front is just a tiny bit discolored. He's lucky because that little girl almost caused him to have a front tooth extracted forcibly.

We brush and floss him and his little brother ritually, morning and night, and often right after meals like lunchtime. It's a pretty serious, time-consuming endeavor. That, and his genetics (or luck) have paid off. No cavities. So a few weeks ago during the nightly brushing, he says "Papa, I don't get it, my teeth are good, why do I need to brush so much?"

I looked at him in horror.  My face was probably enough to answer the question.  It was like "serious face" times 1000 (真剣な顔).  So I decided, why not? I'll bring him to my appointment for the crown replacements.

I sent an email to his teacher this morning to make sure she knows what's going on:

From: James
Subject: My son - arriving late this morning (between 11-12)
To: Sensei
Dear Sensei,
Please accept my apologies I didn’t send this sooner- I am taking my son to my dentist appointment this morning for a good life lesson.  
He has never had cavities- he’s both lucky, and we are extremely attentive to his brushing habits, but recently he made a comment that meant that he doesn’t understand the real value of brushing and flossing, since he’s never had problems.  Sounds like very many adults who don’t value something until it’s too late.  So I thought, at age 6, I’ll take him to the dentist with me - I already prepared the dentist - so he can watch the entire process, needles, drilling and everything.  For an hour or however long it is (no books).   I have a couple crowns that are over 25 years old that I am proactively replacing, so this is perfect context for me to “teach” him about the value of preventive work.
I have a feeling he’ll think about it every time he brushes and flosses- or reminds himself why it’s a priority.
I’ll bring him into school straight from the dentist!  Thank you so much!
Kind regards,
James Coleman

This morning on our half-hour drive to the dentist, we talked about why I have crowns, the history of them, and why I have to deal with this now again.  Then, when we arrived, my dentist (who is incredible), welcomed him back in with me, and practically made him a part of the process.  He wore the cool UV glasses, and sat on my chest as they removed the old crowns and drilled away. I listened to a podcast in one ear while I could hear my son and the doctor talking for an hour about everything they were doing and why.

It turns out, she wanted to contribute to the educational experience. She pointed out to him (and to me) that there are certain important procedures to make the patient more comfortable, to get a better result, and why that's beneficial to his papa.  Basically, I think she did an incredibly effective job at communicating to my son why it's important to go to and rely on the dentist, and not be afraid.  It's a good thing.  Which is incredible, because I was inadvertently only focusing on the bad as it relates to incentivizing him to brush and floss.

On the way back to school today, he told me how much he learned.  Now he understands:

  1. The importance of brushing and flossing (why)
  2. What and how the dentist does besides cleaning
  3. and the importance of going to (a great) dentist proactively, without fear

All in all, I think today was a great life lesson for my son.  Last night, I asked his coach (the other teacher) if it was OK to take him out of school this morning for this, breaking his routine.  She told me, "Of course, this is another kind of education, and one that you need to capture."

When we got to school today the kids saw him, and asked where he was.  His response?

"My dad had a gold tooth!!!"