Great teachers truly are found in all professions, not just in education. I am thankful that my dental hygienist Jan is such a teacher. Her patience and willingness to explain just enough of her process to Katie, as well as her ability to use terms Katie would understand, helped to make Katie’s first official dentist visit a success. Katie is the 3rd generation in our family to see Dr. P…, a small town dentist who has worked his way to a thriving practice.

I credit Jan—as well as my parents—for getting me back into the routine of seeing the dentist every six months. During a visit in college, the words “wisdom teeth” were once uttered to me. What many people do not know is that I am fairly terrified of anything having to do with examining my teeth, let alone the thought of operating on them. I did have one cavity in 7th grade, and the office did a great job with it… I want to be clear that my irrational fear of having my teeth examined has nothing to do with my dental office—in fact, Jan and Dr. P have helped tremendously the past few years in reducing my anxiety with their professionalism, care, and understanding. In fact, I trust them totally. But at 20 years old, I heard “wisdom teeth”….and I refused to see the dentist for five years because I couldn’t handle even the thought of having them removed.

My parents finally convinced me to work on overcoming that anxiety, and I started seeing Jan—whom I will always adore now because she helped me over many hurdles of my dental fear. I still have some anxiety, even in dreams, in the week or so leading up to my appointments, but I am a little better at compartmentalizing it now. A little. I was SURE I would have a cavity today (I am always sure, though I haven’t had one for 18 years).

I had to calm myself this morning by repeating over and over: “You bore two children without any pain meds; if you have a cavity, you can certainly deal with it.” But it seems to me that one of the hallmarks of irrational fear is that small things get blown way out of proportion.

Fortunately, I found out today that I am still cavity-free! Yay!

I knew when I had children that I had to do everything possible to suppress, squelch, and not pass on my dental fear. Katie or Eric might develop it regardless of what I do, but if they have that tendency, I do not want to inflame it by my own behaviors. I have to do work to hide the tension in my body and mind the day of an exam. Having children makes me a little braver, because I know I have to be…for them, so that they can make good decisions about seeing doctors and dentists later in life.

Because this was Katie’s first experience with the dentist, I wanted it to be all positive for her. We took one of our special stuffed doggy friends to watch, snapped several pictures, and made sure to talk about it as an exciting rite of passage, choosing words to celebrate the experience. She did beautifully.

Katie watched while I had my cleaning first. Jan let her help to polish my teeth and rinse them out.

Katie’s turn! Jan reviews the polishing tool and explains how she will use the suction device—“Mr. Thirsty”—to remove some of the rinsing water.

Katie has her teeth polished. She was good at holding still.

Say “ah!”

Because this was Katie’s first time, Jan thought she might only polish Katie’s teeth. Since Katie was enjoying her experience, though, Jan went ahead and took out one of the scrapers to clean out the “sugar bugs” (tartar). She would clean some out and show Katie what she got (the sugar bugs) on the end of the scraper. Part way through this, Katie wanted to be done—which was fine. Then she did a little more. Finally, she said she wanted to be finished. I hugged her and told her what a great job she had done letting Jan take out some of her sugar bugs. Jan agreed, and said, “We were able to get out about half the sugar bugs…and we can get the rest out next time!”

Katie thought about this for a moment and then grew very concerned that there were still some sugar bugs left in her mouth. “I want them out! I want them out!” she exclaimed, and climbed back into the chair. Jan was able to complete the cleaning! What a lovely teacher she was for Katie… I am so grateful that we have her as our hygienist.

After the appointment, Katie wanted to follow Jan around the office while I waited to see Dr. P for a moment so that he could tell me the result of my x-rays. At the end of the appointment, she gave Jan a big hug. Katie genuinely had a great time.

In fact tonight when we were talking about it again, she said, “When is our next appointment? I want to see the dentist everyday!”