I don’t suppose I am alone in that I am nervous of going to the dentist. When I was a very little girl it didn’t bother me at all. I would skip into the examination room and open my mouth wide, while the kindly looking old man would look inside with his funny little mirror and pat me on the head and send me on my merry way. It was as I grew up, and first the fillings and then the extractions came along that I changed my mind upon the nature of dentists.
These days, I am careful to conceal my real feelings about taking my place upon the dentists’ chair, as I have usually got an audience. Three small people watch my every flinch, the involuntary toe tap as I attempt not to grit my teeth during a scale and polish; three small people take their cues from my reactions, rather in the same way they do around spiders. Out of respect for them, and an unwillingness to pass on my distaste (I mean, those gloves – yuck) in order that they grow into the habit of regular visits and good dental health, I hide my fear.
Of course, where Sam is concerned, I have the added concern that his teeth, as crooked as mine were when I was his age, may not be as well formed as those of his typical siblings. During gestation, there is an arrested period of development in the formation of the skull of individuals with Trisomy 21 – which is expressed in a collection of facial feature and skull shaped possibilities and teeth that might come out a funny shape, or not have a proper root, or not have an adult tooth behind it at all.
I know it’s shallow, but I am rather fond of Sam’s smile. In fact, I think I would go so far as to say that his smile, accompanied as it is by lovely white teeth (even if they are at the winky-wonky stage) is important to me. When he smiles, it catches in his eyes. Hearts lift. If something happened to damage it, I’d be bereft.
So it was with trepidation that we went off to the hospital to find out exactly how many teeth he would have to have out in order to reduce the crowding and increase the chances of keeping them in good condition. One x-ray later and a good telling off about oral hygiene (it seems that I must continue to supervise, even though he is in his mid-teens), it was with equal trepidation that we came home again – with an appointment for three extractions and a scale and polish.
You see, unlike me, Sam has reached the fine old age of fifteen years without anyone ever doing anything to his teeth. Nothing more than a mirror and a poky thing has ever been in there – and when they look at him, I’m not entirely sure who they see. Do they see a young man who, if people take the time to explain what will happen and who they will reassure that nothing will hurt him? Or do they see an overgrown, unpredictable child? Do they see Sam, or do they see Down’s syndrome?
Well, yesterday, Sam made sure that everyone in his local dentists’ saw him and not his condition. Yesterday, I think I was prouder than I have ever been of my boy. Yesterday, not only did he lie stiller than his mother can ever hope to do as his teeth were primped and polished, but he allowed two teeth to be extracted without even a sound, except for a self-deprecating ‘silly me’ when he realised that injection over, it wasn’t finished at it wasn’t time to go home. Yesterday, Sam was a bigger advocate for Down’s syndrome than I’ll ever be.
And, as we walked away (with me reminding him not to pull at his lip, to wait until it had woken back up), I recognised that part of my anxiety was not just that someone might hurt or frighten my child, but that I was worried too. I was worried about his teeth (which are a bit funny, but look like they will be OK), I was worried about the dentist – was she afraid of treating him? I was worried, above all, about him, how he would react, how he would behave.
I don’t know. Sometimes, without you noticing, your child does something amazing like doing a bit of growing up. Next time, I think I’ll have a little more confidence.