Practice, honesty and modeling are a recipe for success at the dentist’s

Hello from North Haven!

School’s out for summer, and I spent the last student day off island at a family trip to the dentist’s office.

The last time we all went to the dentist, a year ago, my then two-year-old daughter Penrose screamed loudly enough, upon the dentist entering the room, that he got a peek at her teeth, enough to tell me that they looked clean and that someday she’d need braces (swell).

A year later, I was dreading a repeat performance. In the weeks leading up to the appointment, I laid it on pretty thick. We read the book provided by the dentist’s office, with its cheeseball illustrations and Penrose’s name embedded throughout. We flossed and brushed twice a day. As Penrose gnawed on Gummi Bears, her favorite potty treat (and probably the actual worst one for her teeth, and they’re not even really vegetarian, and extrinsic motivation is bad, I know all that already), I reminded her about the “cavity bugs” that eat sugar and poop plaque that we’d be flossing and scrubbing away later. I talked about how much I loved going to the dentist, and how much I was looking forward to the visit.

That much is true, although it certainly wasn’t the case when I was a kid. I was a screamer too, and later, getting a shot of Novocaine for an extraction, a kicker. I stopped going to the dentist all together as soon as I was on my own, which led to an extremely unpleasant month of mass cavity fillings several years later. I had to take a Xanax to get through each appointment, slumping and drooling all over the drummer from my band who graciously accompanied me.

Finding Mount Pleasant Dental Care, at a coworker’s recommendation, has changed my impression of the dentist’s office from torture chamber to tooth spa. The dentists and hygienists are gentle and kind, and careful not to dismiss my anxities. Over the nearly ten years that I’ve been their patient, I’ve grown to look forward to the biannual visits. So, as the last tactic in my efforts to get Penrose to feel calm and excited about her own check up, she sat in the dental chair with me as I got scraped and scrubbed.

I laid back in the chair and relaxed as the hygienist worked expertly. Penrose chatted with her in an unending monologue, encompassing the contents of her tiny pink purse, her favorite school activities, and the plots of most of Hayao Miyzaki’s creative output. She inventoried her bug bites and Bandaids. The hygienist went along with all of it. Dr. Pier, my dentist, came in for an exam, and although Penrose was a little dubious, she let him know about the bug bites and Bandaids as well.

The moment of truth came shortly. We went into a different exam room, and Penrose leaned back against me as the chair reclined and elevated. A new hygienist came in, and, like a baby bird, Penrose obligingly opened her mouth as wide as she could. My husband had practiced with her on the boat en route and it worked.

Like a baby bird waiting for a worm. Photo by William Trevaskis, used with permission.

For the entire appointment, Penrose was calm and seemed pleased with the attention. Her dentist, Dr. Stevens, a young woman new to the practice, won her over completely by examining every shiny rock and pilfered necklace in the tiny pink purse after counting all twenty of her tiny teeth. Penrose was excited for the bubblegum toothpaste on the whirling brush, and suggested that the fluoride paintbrush would serve equally well applying nail polish as it did for cherry fluoride. The swag bag at the end, with flossers, tooth brush and shiny stickers, was icing on the cake.

“I had fun at the dentist,” Penrose announced, unprompted, in the car on the way to lunch. “I have clean, sparkling teeth!” I hope her positive experience shapes the way she views the dentist forever, but we’ll keep talking about it and modeling good dental hygiene just to be safe.

Courtney Naliboff

About Courtney Naliboff

In addition to this blog, I'm a contributing writer to, a Jewish parenting site, a blogger and book reviewer for, and the author of Salt Water Cure, a column in Working Waterfront. I report news from North Haven for Working Waterfront and Island Journal, and was a speaker at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life in 2015. Follow Frozen Chosen on facebook or visit my Web site for more writing and free music to download!