Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Open to the idea

An early trip to the dentist isn't all fun and games, but a few good toys can help

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

All week Shelby Weddle has been crossing the days off a calendar, awaiting this special Thursday.

"Are you excited?" her mother, Lynn Carmack-Weddle, asks.

"Yes," the 5-year-old says.

Caleb Weddle, 3, of Norwood, shows a smile to his mother, Lynn Carmack-Weddle, after brushing his teeth during his first dental examination at the offices of Elizabeth Mueller D.D.S. in Montgomery.
(Photos by Steven M. Herppich/The
Cincinnati Enquirer)
Caleb Weddle, 3, of Norwood, opens his mouth wide as dental hygienist Jayna Frazier shows him what to expect during his first dental examination using a stuffed alligator named ’Ally.’
Lynn Carmack-Weddle (left), of Norwood, sits with her daughter, Shelby, 5, as Doctor Elizabeth Mueller D.D.S. looks over her son, Caleb during their first dental examination.
Lynn Carmack-Weddle goes over Shelby’s information with dental hygienist Rosemary Bonser.
Shelby Weddle has her teeth cleaned by dental hygienist Rosemary Bonser.
Shelby Weddle holds her mom’s hand as she nervously gets an x-ray of her teeth by dental hygienist Rosemary Bonser.
It's an important day for both Shelby and her 3-year-old brother, Caleb, who live in Norwood. Their first appointment with a dentist is less than an hour away.

Shelby is a sweet girl with butterfly earrings and long blond hair pulled into a ponytail. She's shy. Ask her what the dentist will do, she turns away and answers quietly, "Brush my teeth."

"So they don't fall out!" blurts Caleb, who is a bit more - OK, a lot more - outgoing.

Their mother, who oversees distribution of Coca-Cola products in Ohio and Indiana, and their father, Dan Weddle, a stay-at-home dad, have prepared the kids for today's office visit by explaining what will happen. Wisely, their mother has avoided discussing her dental history of two root canals.

The Weddle kids happily show off their battery-powered toothbrushes. Shelby has a Little Mermaid model. Caleb sports a Spiderman design. The sandy-haired boy loves Spidey. He's wearing a Spiderman shirt. He owns a Spiderman action figure.

Brushing with Spiderman has never been a problem. But spitting...

"He spits wherever he takes a notion to," Dan Weddle says of his son.

"He gets it all over his shirt," Shelby says of her brother.

No time for a demonstration. They're hopping into the minivan for the 15-minute ride to the offices of Elizabeth S. Mueller, a pediatric dentist in Montgomery.

In the waiting room, Caleb's eyes immediately turn to a table full of construction blocks and dinosaurs. He soon sidles up to Dominick Pifher of Monroe, who is 3 years old.

Dominick sees Caleb's Spiderman shirt. Caleb sees Dominick's Spiderman boots. The boys form an instant bond.

Soon, Caleb, Shelby and their parents are led through a door to tooth-brushing stations, where the children select new brushes and toothpaste flavors.

"And you swallow it?" Caleb says of his bubble gum-flavored paste.

"No, you spit it out like you do at home," advises dental assistant Cathy Doughman.


This part of an occasional series that documents moments that connect us. This year, the series focuses on firsts that are life's milestones. We welcome your suggestions. Contact John Johnston at 768-8516; e-mail: jjohnston@enquirer.com.


First trip to the dentist
First flight
First baby
First comedy gig
First T-ball game
First college graduate

Then the family is directed around the corner, where four chairs await. Sunlight streams through the treatment room's large windows, brightening the light purple and turquoise walls. The look on Shelby's face says she senses ... something.

"Mom, will you hold my hand?" she says.

Caleb plops into a chair, hands on the armrests, feet tapping together.

"Mommy, hold my hand," Shelby says again, as her parents answer hygienists' questions.

Hygienist Jayna Frazier sits at the head of Caleb's chair.

"This is Ally the alligator," she says. The plush puppet has a nice set of pearly whites. Frazier opens Ally's mouth wide, and demonstrates how she uses a dental mirror. She shows Caleb an explorer, an instrument with a sharp, pointy end. She scrapes gently on his fingernail, to show that it won't hurt. She explains the "toothbrush" and "straw" that will be used to clean his teeth and suck up the moisture.

Time to put those things in Caleb's mouth.

"I'm not going to go back real far," Frazier says, holding the mirror. "Open big, big, big."

"You're gonna go far back," Caleb says.

"No, I'm not."

"Yeah, you are."

She lets him help guide the mirror into his mouth.

In the chair next to Caleb, hygienist Rosemary Bonser is giving the same treatment to Shelby, who is calmly holding her mother's hand.

"How's Caleb doing?" Shelby asks.

"He'll be out of surgery in a little bit," mom jokes.

In fact, Frazier is finished with Caleb. "You rock, man," the hygienist tells him.

Time for Dr. Mueller - her patients know her as Dr. Betsy - to step in. She's wearing striped, multicolor socks, fuchsia scrubs and a warm smile.

She can trace her desire to be a dentist to something that happened when she was 11 years old. While giving a friend a piggyback ride, she fell in a driveway. "I broke off my two front teeth and had to spend a lot of time in the dentist's chair," she says.

"Bummer. But I got a good job out of the whole experience."

Dr. Mueller confirms what Frazier saw in Caleb's mouth: a cavity.

Shelby is cavity-free.

Neither of the Weddle kids is thrilled with what happens next. The X-ray machine is unlike any camera they've ever seen. So Mom dons a lead apron so she can hold Shelby's hand.

Then they're off to the video game room for some fun.

"Tomorrow, I want to come back," Shelby says.

Caleb will be back first, to have his cavity filled. He'll be introduced to Mr. Whistle, which most of us know as a high-speed drill.

"I'll bet he's going to cry," Shelby says.

But that's another time. The toughest thing about today is leaving all those toys behind in the waiting room.

Don't over-hype it

When preparing a child for the first dental checkup, resist the urge to over-hype the experience, pediatric dentist Elizabeth Mueller says.

"I would impress upon parents that they want to be kind of neutral," says Dr. Mueller, whose practice is in Montgomery. "You want to try to be positive, but don't overdo it with feigned enthusiasm because (children) will see through that.

"You also don't want to say, 'This won't hurt a bit.' Because the kids are thinking, 'I wasn't thinking that. Should I be thinking that?'

"As my friend always says, you never tell a kid, 'We're going to Kings Island, and it won't hurt a bit.' "

Although there's a difference of opinion about the ideal age for a child's first dental checkup, many dentists like to see a child when the first teeth come in, usually 18-24 months.


MOMENTS OF LIFE . . . First visit to the dentist

This is the first in an occasional Tempo series, Moments of Life, that teams reporter John Johnston with photographers Steven M. Herppich and Craig Ruttle to document those everyday moments that connect all of us. This year, the series is focusing on the firsts - first baby, first haircut, first date - that are milestones in our lives. We welcome your ideas and suggestions for the series. Contact Johnston at 768-8516 or e-mail jjohnston@enquirer.com

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