As I take Emily to the restroom to begin her evening routine, I engage in my mental routine to prepare. My inner chatter commences. You can do hard things. You were made for this. You are a caregiving badass. Tonight will go well. You have enough energy left to do this. You are doing this because you love Emily. Some version of this talk comes out in my thought bubbles as the routine leads to the most dreaded task of the day: teeth brushing.
Now that Emily is in her cozy PJs and everything else is complete, I lay her on the floor. I put one leg over her left arm and one over her right. Justin is on one side holding an arm and leg down. Todd is on the other doing the same. I work to get the brush in her mouth and the battle of teeth brushing vs. Emily the crocodile begins. The one to two-minute ordeal seems to last for hours. She bites on the brush and thrashes her head. Most nights, we are lucky to get one quadrant clean to my satisfaction.
Over the years, the task has become harder, and what used to be a one-person task has become a 3-person task. There are nights when I have nothing left to give, and the task is ignored. This is accompanied by a minor tinge of guilt that grips my chest. I worry that her teeth are going to get cavities or she is in pain from a mouth issue and cannot tell us.
I was recently on the We Are Brave Together Facebook page and there was a post about teeth brushing. Our family is not special. For many unique families, it is a struggle, challenge, and sometimes leaves us feeling inadequate. Many children with severe developmental disabilities require someone else to brush and care for their teeth. Along with comfort and support for the parents battling the task, the feed included a plethora of tricks and tools used to get the job accomplished. We have used every device suggested, except for one. It was a U-shaped brush made out of food-grade silicone. I figured it was probably a waste of money but clicked on the Amazon link and bought it.
The next day a package arrived with the odd contraption and special foaming strawberry flavored goop that the manufacturer recommended. After Emily was showered, shampooed, and shined, we decided to try the new brush. The boys and I held her down, and to our surprise, it was easier to get into her mouth than expected. She could bite down all she wanted, and the brush still moved freely in her mouth. It vibrated and automatically shut off after the cleaning cycle. I just moved it left to right as it did the work. We were pretty sure it wasn’t doing much, but we continued to use it.
Last week Emily had her first dental visit since February 2020. A world pandemic, illness, and fears prevented me from scheduling an appointment. I called and left a message with Dr. Worden that I was concerned her teeth were in terrible shape after two years without having a professional dental cleaning. I explained brushing her teeth had become extremely difficult, and even with three adults working on the task, we were not very effective. I thought we were at a point where she might need sedation to clean her teeth. I was concerned she had cavities or gum issues.
Dr. Worden texted me the next day. He said he understood my concerns but suggested I make the appointment. We could give it a try. (That was in January!) I did not call the office to make an appointment. I procrastinated. I didn’t want to deal with it. I finally made the appointment in May. The appointment was scheduled two days after I called his office. I did not have much time to worry or dwell on the dread swirling in my mind.
Todd took time off that day for the appointment, and Justin left class early to go with us. Teeth brushing and dentist appointments are all-hands-on-deck affairs. When we arrived at Dr. Worden’s office, the staff was prepared and waiting for Emily. Todd and Justin transferred Emily to the dental chair. Two hygienists stood at Emily’s head, and two others were on the side to help Todd and Justin hold Emily down. I did not have to help! I was elated and I snapped a few photos as they prepared to get down to business. Emily proved me wrong. While she did fight and protest, she was no match for six adults focused on getting her teeth cleaned. There was two additional staff on standby to assist with tools and instruments. The cleaning was more successful than I could have imagined. Her teeth were clean, and the hygienist was able to get fluoride on them for the first time.
After the team cleaned her teeth, Dr. Worden examined her mouth as I held my breath. I was sure he would find gum disease or cavities. To my shock and surprise, her teeth looked great. Her gums were healthier than usual, and her teeth did not appear to have any issues that needed attention. What?! I was over the moon. I was thankful for the Facebook group that led me to a new tool. Our family dedication, along with the new toothbrush, seems to be aiding in a cleaner mouth and healthier gums.
We thanked the staff for giving up part of their lunch. We thanked them for their incredible care and attention. I was overcome with emotion as I witnessed their compassion. As the staff worked quickly and efficiently cleaning her teeth, they praised Emily. They encouraged Emily and comforted her. They cheered her on. It is tough to express my gratitude. Dr. Worden and his staff have always gone above and beyond to keep Emily’s rarely seen smile sparkling. The staff worked in synchrony to clean her teeth. They also exhibited kindness, compassion, and goodness. Thank you for seeing my daughter and giving her amazing care.
NOTE: When Emily was small, we used to take her to a dentist that would administer chloral hydrate before each cleaning to sedate her. We were not allowed in the room while they cleaned her teeth. The sedation impacted the rest of our day. She was not steady, and she was irritated and moody. The alternative would be to put her under general sedation every six months to clean her teeth. While this made cleaning convenient for the dentist and staff, it was hard on Emily (and me). I decided there had to be a better alternative. I discovered Dr. Worden from a parent at Justin’s elementary school.
I remember the first time we went to see Dr. Worden. He had a no-nonsense approach. He was confident he could clean Emily’s teeth without anesthesia. I warned him that Emily often gagged until she threw up and that she may try to bite him. He assured me that he could handle it. He added, “If she throws up on me, it won’t be the first time…today.” We laughed. Todd and I held Emily’s arms and legs down in the exam chair as he cleaned and inspected her teeth. She screamed. She kicked. She fussed. As soon as he finished the cleaning, she stopped fussing and was fine. She was not traumatized by the experience. No grogginess. No balance issues. No big deal. We had found a new dentist.