A little less than a year ago, we took M for his first trip to the Dentist. I wasn’t sure how to pick a dentist at first. Should it be a pediatric dentist? A family dentist? Should I just pick one out of the phone book?
We chose Dr. M because my sister recommended her. I was told that she was very nice and friendly with the kids, had a very popular office, and the office had lots of “stuff” to entertain the kids. I guess the comment about lots of “stuff” should have been an early warning, but I chose to ignore it. Anything that seemed to make a dental visit more fun for my son made my dental-anxiety-prone heart rest easier.
Dr. M’s office turned out to be more like a bad dream than I expected. Arp and I both went with M to the appointment because he had recently chipped several teeth in a biking accident. As we sat next to the examination chair, just a minute or two into the visit, Arp and I were quickly admonished when we made the mistake of using the word “cavity” in front of M. Dr. M quickly told us about the approved euphemisms allowed in her office, which included “cookie bugs” for the bacteria that cause cavities. I can’t even remember all the weird phrases she used because I think I blocked them out.
Another problem at Dr. M’s office was that she seemed continually upset by anything non-mainstream. We were immediately reduced to a stereotype. Since our pediatrician is one of the least mainstream peds I have ever had the privilege to meet, she continually made comments like, “Oh, you are one of Dr. Z’s patients , so I guess you think…” She was also critical of non-metal fillings because she claimed it took her a whole 5 additional minutes to do them compared with metal. She also criticized the fact that we weren’t giving M fluoride in vitamins. So M was supposed to not only ingest poison in the form of fluoride, but also put leaching metals into his mouth because of a savings of 5 minutes?
The final straw came when the topic of breastfeeding came up. First, her utter surprise when she found out that M still nursed was palpable. Then she gave me this lovely statement: “Babies older than 6 months of age should not be nursing at night because it causes cavities, and after 6 months, they don’t need breast milk for nutrition any longer.” Wow. What a load of crap. Not only do many babies still wake up due to hunger after the age of 6 months, but they also wake up to breastfeed for reasons other than hunger. When a medical professional makes the kind of wrongheaded blanket statement that Dr. M made, she has a big chance of doing some damage. Damage to the emotional health of children that were prematurely night-weaned due to the fears of their parents. Damage to the babies that fully weaned, again prematurely, due to the interruption of the natural course of breastfeeding. Damage to the attachments of mother and baby. Damage to the trust that baby has in his/her mother that breaks down when she suddenly withholds milk and comfort at the tender age of 6 months. And possible consequences to the mother, who may be put at risk for mastitis when she suddenly night-weans.
I tried to push my distrust of Dr. M out of my mind, but that breastfeeding statement of hers just kept coming back to haunt me. Not able to put up with idiot medical professionals personally, I was unwilling to send M back there. When her receptionists called at the 6-month mark to remind me to make another appointment, I went into great detail over why I wouldn’t be making another appointment and asked her to tell Dr. M. I got a letter from Dr. M a few weeks later explaining that we must have had a “misunderstanding about breastfeeding”. No misunderstanding, Dr. M. Your words were quite clear.
So we were in a place where we had to find a new dentist for M. We also needed a new dentist for Arp and me. Arp hadn’t found a dentist that he liked since he was a child, and plus, he was having some tooth pain. So this time, I did something smart. I asked someone who I really trusted for a recommendation. That person was our very uncommon pediatrician. We are so lucky that we found our pediatrician. We have to drive almost an hour for appointments, but it is soooooo worth it! He treats us like equals. He knows we are smart and allows us to make decisions. He doesn’t pressure us with vaccinations, and talks with us frankly about all the research he knows about. He supports breastfeeding, and he knows who to recommend for more information if he doesn’t know the answer (no bullshit stories about a mother having to wean for this and that reason from his office!). He’s just plain nice, and he wears a kick-ass pair of either hiking shoes, or Keens sandals to office visits. I love that. Dr. Z gave me a recommendation for a holistic dentist, and we made appointments for M and Arp.
Arp and M just got back from their appointments with our new dentist, Dr. H. Dr. H was lovely. No bullshit on breastfeeding. Frank talk with M about his teeth, his health, and brushing (no euphemisms here). They don’t do metal fillings in this office (they must have some sense). And the statement of the day from Dr. H: “It’s sad that more people can’t afford health care in the U.S. That, and the high mortality rate at birth, are real problems!” I couldn’t agree more. Plus, it turns out that her last child was born at home using a midwife that I know. I plan to call Dr. H to make an appointment for myself today.
The thing is, if you don’t ask the right person for a dental recommendation, you are not going to get one that suits you. Although my sister gave me her best recommendation, the issues that I care about just don’t hit on her radar. So worrying about euphemisms, fluoride, and breastfeeding were just not on her radar. So I got a recommendation that totally didn’t suit me (of course, unless Dr. M only caters to non-breastfeeding children who don’t care about poisonous chemicals, I have to wonder if she really suits anyone.) Thank goodness I got some sense and found a dentist that suits the whole family.