© Bree DeRoche 2011
Everyone knows that sitting in the dental chair is scary business. There’s the metal probes with sharp pointy ends, the creepy little mirrors on sticks, cords and hoses leading in and out of mysterious holes in the floor, sprays and weird medical smells … and let’s not forget: the dreaded drill. Or, as my son’s dentist likes to call it, ‘Mr Buzz’.
Recently we went for a little visit to Mr Buzz after my son complained of a tooth ache – one so extreme, in fact, that he was awake the entire night beforehand, crying and complaining of the pain, despite several rounds of Panadol.
The dentist, a young Kiwi fresh off the boat, was sensational. Full of kiddie lingo, delivered in rhythmic, musical inflections, emphasising words like, “sweetpea!” and “you ARE a big boy!”, she had us hypnotised the second we walked in the door, like she’d just stepped off the set of The Wiggles. Her clipped New Zealand accent only added to the appeal, as my son – utterly familiar with the American and English accents, of course – had never heard a heavy Kiwi accent in full flight and I could see the delighted twinkle in his eye as she said, “Can you open your mouth rooolly beg for me?”, as though she were deliberately goofing around for his private amusement. Coupled with her bright yellow skivvy under her medical scrubs, it was a winning combination.
However, her intoxicating enthusiasm flickered and things turned overcast after an X-ray revealed the cause of the tooth ache. A deep cavity had eaten its way through his tiny molar, all the way down to the roots, concealed under a previous filling for a cavity that hadn’t been drilled out effectively enough. Hence, the excruciating pain it was causing. My six-year-old was going to require a semi-root canal.
I was happy they’d found the source of the pain and completely trusting of Dr Kiwi’s dental competency, basing her skill with the drill upon her skill for eliciting giggles from my son. Yet it rapidly became clear that the prospect of administering a local anaesthetic to a small boy via an enormous needle, followed by clamping open his face with a mouth guard and using a large drill bit to bore deep into his molar, all the way down to the roots, wasn’t a procedure she'd necessarily been faced with before in her young career. I could see Dr Kiwi was a little shaken up, which only raised the melody of her inflections and added more “sweetpeas” to her monologue.
My son was asked to recline in the chair, put on the sunnies then wiggle his fingers and toes as Dr Kiwi secreted an enormous needle off the tray. “Wiggle! Wiggle! Wiggle!” she said, trying to distract him, as she inserted the long hypodermic into his mouth. “Wiggle! Wiggle! Wiggle!” she repeated, as I saw her arms shake as she tried to balance her position in mid-air for the extended period of time it took to slowly inject the local anaesthetic. My son wiggled his fingers and wiggled his toes under his sneakers – oblivious to the ruse.
Then out came Mr Buzz and the water hose and the suction. The dental nurse, dressed in a blue skivvy, scooted in close. As Mr Buzz exploded into action, my son lay calm and still until the probing became so deep that he raised his hand, as instructed, to indicate the pain. Mr Buzz stopped and Mr Needle reappeared. “Wiggle! Wiggle! Wiggle, sweetpea!” And my son wiggled, as more anaesthetic was administered, deeper, at different angles in the gums. Mr Buzz was fired up again and, almost instantly, my son’s hand rose again. “It hurts,” he garbled through a mouthful off tools.
She called in the big guns – Dr Spock, the boss man – and they consulted. A close examination and some hushed discussion between the doctors and then Mr Needle was replaced with Mr Second Dose. As Dr Spock, dressed in purple scrubs, said, “Get ready to wiggle!”, I could barely contain my sniggers – despite the sobriety of the situation. Once again, my son wiggled his fingers and wiggled his toes, and Dr Spock’s more powerful arm delivered additional shots of local anaesthetic.
Mr Buzz reappeared, but this time requiring an adjustment, as the small drill bit was replaced with a borer the likes of which I’m sure they use for mining in Outback Australia. Dr Spock fired up the machine then after a couple of uncomfortable adjustments with his arms and elbows, looking for the right angle, he switched off the drill and fired, instead, a bunch of instructions to the dental nurse.
I had no clue what he was talking about, but quickly my son’s open mouth was prepped and transformed, like the chest cavity of a middle-age man undergoing coronary bypass surgery. They clamped his mouth open with a large mouth guard, leaving him in a perpetual, unnaturally-wide yawn. They inserted a “raincoat”, a large square sheath of blue plastic, clipped into place and held in position by a huge metal clip that covering his entire jaw, from nose to chin. They poked a hole in the raincoat, through which his molar was exposed, and clamped on a small metal “bracelet” around the tooth. My son was nothing by a wide open mouth, covered in plastic, with the tiny molar peeping through.
Finally, with everything clamped and clipped, we were ready for the show to begin and I realised everything that had transpired beforehand was merely the opening act. “Get ready to wiggle!” chimed Dr Spock again and Mr Buzz was fired up to full speed and the doctor commenced to drill my son’s tooth, as though mining for uranium.
“There’s some germs, Doctor!” squealed Dr Kiwi, delighted.
“Got ’em!” said Dr Spock.
“What about the pink one, Doctor?!”
“Ah, I see!” he said and changed his drilling angle and probed deeper.
“There’s a green one, Doctor!”
“Ah! A nasty one,” he said, “got it!”
“Oh no,” said Dr Kiwi, “I see a pink one with purple dots!”
“I’ll get him!” said Dr Spock.
And so it went on, their comedy routine, as they worked tirelessly to extract the decay all the way down to the roots and entertain my son on the chair. At one point, after Dr Spock asked my son if he knew about Mr Fire Engine Hose, showing him the spray nozzle for rinsing, I had to resist all temptation to say, “Look, guys, he’s nearly seven, not two,” but by this stage it had become apparent that the performance was not just for my son’s benefit, but also for their own. It could have been the anxiety of working on such a small patient, or perhaps just a way to keep themselves entertained, but as the drilling continued, which took the better part of an hour, the comedy never missed a beat, as the good doctors drilled out pink germs, red germs, green germs, spotty germs, boy germs and girl germs.
My son didn’t make a peep. He didn’t raise his hand to indicate any pain. In fact, he didn’t move a muscle.
He fell fast asleep.
Yep, right there in the dental chair with a face clamped open and a full raincoat and clips, with a huge drill in his sore molar and a Wiggle-fest comedy routine taking place over his head … he dozed off into a restful slumber.
When his snoring broadcasted his siesta, the room burst into a round of laughter. “I guess he didn’t get much sleep last night!” said Dr Kiwi, and I nodded confirmation. “Oh well, let’s let him sleep.” And he slept, as Dr Spock let Dr Kiwi finalise the procedure, finish the drilling and rinsing and suctioning, then fill the clean dental cavity. Yet I couldn’t help but notice the slight air of disappointment, as, having put the audience to sleep, Dr Spock had left the room and the performance was over.
With his molar tightly filled, the bracelet and raincoat removed, my son finally stirred from his snooze and looked around the room, a little embarrassed, as Dr Kiwi asked him if he enjoyed his nanna nap. He yawned, drowsy and disorientated and asked, “Where’s Jeff?”