My kids recently had cavities. Back when I was little and had a cavity, my mom took me to the dentist office. He gave me a shot, then took the drill and drilled out the cavity, then filled it.
Things are different these days. Our regular dentist referred us to a pediatric dentist for the fillings. This office was a whole different world — one I thought only existed under the care of Willy Wonka: A world where wonder meets science, and parents question their parenting.
The office is a veritable wonderland, with games, toys, video games, and psychedelic colors. The Oompa Loompas who help the good dentist are not orange. They look like normal people, in fact, but they’re armed with “sleepy juice” and a “silly nose” to combat the pesky “sugar bugs.”
I have never, in my life, made use of a silly nose, a.k.a. laughing gas. However, administering it to kids seems to be the M.O. for the pediatric dentist. The dental insurance company does not find it necessary, though, and does not cover it, and I had to wonder whether my kids really needed it. It’s not a matter of my being overly concerned about excess drugs. It’s more about my being cheap. Our dental insurance wasn’t paying out much, and our trip to dental wonderland was going to put a big dent in our pockets.
I agreed to the silly nose for my daughter. She’s young, was quaking-in-her-boots nervous and is prone to breaking out in hives when stressed. But when they came to get my son, they asked if I’d like him to have it.
I looked him squarely in the eye and said, “If you skip it, it’ll save me some money. I could probably give you some of that money if you want.”
Did the Oompa Loompa hygienist raise an eyebrow at me? I thought maybe she did. My son, who has been broke for a while now, narrowed his eyes in thought, then agreed.
After they whisked him away to La La Land, another mom came in with a little boy who looked like he was about 3 years old. He went straight to the toys and started rolling cars off the shelf so they crashed loudly to the floor. Soon after, the male Oompa Loompa came to get the boy.
“No! I won’t go! I hate you! I hate you!” he shouted, running away from the hygienist. I looked up at the scene, struggling to remain expressionless. I’m sure my eyes were bugging a little as the adults herded the boy to the room.
It really doesn’t matter what expression I wore. If the other mom was anything like me, she would read judgment into my face. What I was feeling, though, was a bit of nostalgia, a tinge of empathy and a huge amount of relief that my days of toddler riot scenes are behind me. Those days had evolved into blatant bribery: cash to forgo laughing gas.
I didn’t have a chance to say anything to her — to tell her that I remember those days and that trying to control an energetic, expressive, stressed-out kid is impossible, exhausting and infuriating. Maybe she already knew those things, but it would have been nice to be able to remind her. I might even have sprung for a round of silly nose for her kid — and for her.
Mom and freelancer Emily Parnell writes regularly for The Star.