PULLING MY DAUGHTERS' TEETH
By Dr. Rodney Chang
May 2, 2002
It was count down time, only two hours till the moment nobody wanted to arrive. I, the dentist-father, and Rochelle, the 10 year-old timid ballerina daughter, sentenced by the orthodontist to have four permanent, strong teeth yanked - by the general dentist - ME. I remember the trauma of having done the same 'evil deed' for my older son, Bronson, about 2 years ago. I remember him brave, "acting like a man" at 11 years of age, sitting in the dreaded dental chair, watching the needle and then the pliers approach his ordered open mouth. But more than that I am still haunted by his post-surgical critique to me: "It hurt." I defensively shot back to that hurtful remark, "Well why the heck didn't you tell me so when I was pulling it." No answer confirmed that he was "acting like a man" and would not show any emotion to the pain that eluded my oral anesthesia administration to his tissues.
Now it's Rochelle's turn and I know she has heard repetitively how it hurts when Dad pulls. And being my only daughter and a sweet heart at that, I did not want to have to put that type of force to her teeth, jaws and tempomandibular joint. I tried many times to get my wife to schedule her with an oral surgeon, a specialist who does extractions day in and day out as a living. The appointment never was made for various reasons. The main one, I think, is because I'm free and specialist charge $250+ a tooth. Now the ideal time to get braces on by the orthodontist had arrived and somebody had to do the nasty job.
I finally gave in and told my wife, "OK, I'll do it. Schedule Rochelle." Suddenly there were no excuses why she had not already had those teeth taken out by somebody else. Suddenly "Rochelle Chang-Extractions," was on my posted clinic schedule. 3 p.m. As I worked through the morning patients, procedures, I regretted having to do this thing to my daughter this day. In fact, Rochelle's words, riding in my car last night from ballet class, kept coming into my mind: "Dad, do I really have to come to your office tomorrow?" Regrettably I had to answer, "Yes, if you want beautiful teeth." I was careful not to say "if you want a beautiful face as this would imply I did not see her as already pretty and might give her an emotional complex about her current appearance, especially as she prepared to solo soon in the upcoming ballet performance of her youth dance company.
It was now 2 o'clock. Almost confrontation time. It was scheduled at 3 because she had to finish a full day of school before being picked up by her mother and driven across town to the clinic. I imagined her counting the hours too in school, dreading the arrival of the drive over, the hour of 3, sitting in the "torture" chair, then seeing my face.
Now it's 3 p.m.! I looked out the window to the parking lot and no family Volvo. Then 3:10 p.m. and still no car. My nurse laughs and suggests that she's not coming, that she "chickened out." Maybe she was crying and giving her mother a hard time, fighting for a reprieve to today's horrific event in her young life. My own imagination starts playing games too - she can be a very stubborn girl. For example, she simply refuses to take off her glasses for photo-shoots. I think she even maybe made a deal to see somebody else if only she did not have to come and see Daddy today. Kids are known to procrastinate and postpone the inevitable. I get angry for a moment, thinking, if she did manipulate her mother to get out of this ordeal today, one which I too have been regretting all day, then even if she agrees to come to my office next time, I wouldn't do it. "She had her chance and now I refuse to do it!!!" But words to the mother still lingered behind these angry thoughts - "I want Dad to do it, because I trust him not to hurt me."
Let's say I had all these mixed emotions as a dentist, a father, a controller of the dental treatment situation. A part of me also wanted to postpone this unnatural physical crisis between father and daughter. This is what can happen when your father is a dentist!
Suddenly the car pulls into the parking lot. Erlinda, my wife, gets out and seems forever to talk to someone in the back seat. The window is open but the rear door stays closed. I can't see that well without my glasses so I assume Rochelle is not budging out of the car - her last chance to defend herself against the needles and pliers and potential traumatic pain as perceived by a 10 year old, confronting the dental chair now only a flight of stairs away.
Then, like a drama, the passenger front door opens and out steps Rochelle. She had not been in the back seat afterall and Erlinda must have been retrieving some items from the back seat to take upstairs. Turns out she was bringing up the girl's sweater, books, ballet video and water bottle.
In a minute the door open and in steps Erlinda and Rochelle. We are ready. The nurses were instructed to whisk Rochelle straight to the dental chair as soon as she entered the office, to lessen the chance of her building up fear, waiting to be called into the back. Amazingly, Rochelle followed stoically behind the dental assistant and sat herself in the dental chair. The napkin in clipped around her neck.
Just as surprisingly, the television above the dental chair starts playing the video of one of Rochelle's ballet past performances. Brilliant! She had brought something she loves to take her mind off what I had to do. Without hesitation, not thinking anymore that I, as her father, was about to sacrifice strong teeth meant by nature to last a lifetime, I proceed to administer the injections for anesthesia into her gums. She sits there quiet, seemingly relaxed, although non-communicative with me, staring at the television. Once I had inserted that first injection I knew I personally would be emotionally all right. I was no longer the Dad but the professional doing his job like I have done on thousands of patients before. I commenced on my personal goal to do it perfectly - absolutely no pain, minimal traumatic forces to the targeted teeth, get two, not just one on this first visit, and minimize the bleeding and post-operative swelling that evening.
I administer shot after shot, more than usual, just be sure she feels nothing once I apply the forceps to the teeth. The plan is to get the easier one first, the upper first maxillary bicuspid, then ease down to the potentially more difficult one on the bottom, the first mandibular bicuspid, housed in the lower hinged mandibular jaw.
Next time the other two on the right side would be removed. This would allow her to eat tonight on one side of her mouth without pain. After today half would be done!
The first tooth came out easily. She never knew the moment it was out. The second took a bit more force of the forceps but suddenly jetted out of the socket with the forceps flying outward safely, so quickly I thought I might have broken the tooth in half. But it was all there, caught yet between the jaws of my pliers. More than usual blood oozed out of the sockets so the nurse quickly started to aspirate before too much pooled on the bottom of her mouth. Not to quickly do so would result in emotional panic that she was bleeding profusely in the mouth. So a quick wash, suction and insertion of pads of cotton to apply pressure to stop further bleeding, and to absorb new blood still pouring out of the bony sockets in her jaws.
I was delight to then tell her, " OK, bite down on the gauze, we're done, they're out." Only then did her gaze shift from the TV to my face, covered with mask and protective goggles as a routine for dental surgery. She looked surprised that the deed was done. She doesn't say a word. But I am informed by the nurse that she wanted to remain seated there, biting on the cotton pads, and continue to watch her video performance. I told the nurse to go get the mother, yes, hiding in the front office as to not experience the surgery. Mother came in beaming, happy that it was done for the day, and congratulated Rochelle for her bravery. I told Erlinda to make sure Rochelle got some money for tolerating this and for such good behavior. Bravery which really surprised me.
I then dawned on me that what I had witnessed was my little girl as a maturing so-to-be teenager. My baby, through her calm demeanor, displayed that she was 'growing up.'
Only later, at home, did Rochelle start becoming her talkative self again. She complained about the numbness still interfering with her speaking. She testified that she never felt anything, to the amazement of her brothers. Bronson, who claimed some pain from the same procedure looked at me from across the dinner table with a look expressing "no fair." She even said she thought she was going to cry when riding to the clinic. She also conferred to me that she never was watching that ballet tape but was focusing on "a little square in your painting up on the wall, next to the TV." She had been looking at my art instead of herself dancing ballet to counter her apprehension! She also said she never saw the first one come out but did see a white flash whiz by from the corner of her eye the second time. She commended me for "not feeling anything" and with that I reassured her that next time, for the remain two teeth, it would be the same painless experience.
So ended this episode of growing up for both father and daughter, one that facilitated the bond and trust of such a relationship. Fortunately, in this unique father-daughter ordeal, there was a happy ending!