The Day I Did A Root Canal on a 5 year-old

Posted by shana on Jun 17, 2009 in didn't know this about me did you |

Things happened while the blog was on vacation.

One of those things is that I left the admittedly fascinating world of tea cafes to instead pursue a career in the even more fascinating field of dentistry.

No, no… oh, yeah, no, I did it to pursue better pay and better hours, albeit less tasty job perks.

I’m not a dentist, of course, not that I couldn’t be if I tried.  ;)  I’m a dental assistant.  I have been for weeks now, maybe even a whole month.  And two days ago, I did a root canal on a little five year-old boy.

Well, I assisted the root canal.

The little five year old boy in question was actually a twin.  We’ll call him Clive, because that was his name and there’s no way any name I make up would be better than that for this story.  Little five year-old Clive and his little five year-old twin brother both had cavities, both on the same tooth.  Twins.  Always have to be matching.  The twin was in the care of Bea, the other dental assistant at this practice, and little Clive was in my care.

The procedure was to go like this.   Dentist numbs little twin’s mouth.  Dentist numbs little Clive’s mouth.  Dentist fixes up little twin’s little cavity.  Dentist fixes up little Clive’s little cavity.  Little Clive and his little twin get little souvenir toothbrushes, everyone goes home happy and watches Curious George: The Movie, which was on at four, apparently.

Except, little Clive’s little cavity was actually not very little.  In fact, for what a little tooth it was, the cavity was huge.  Poor little Clive.

But let me back up.  Clive and I are sitting in the back room, with his brother down the hall in the front room, and his brother is getting his mouth numbed.  Clive is climbing all over the seat, telling me about summer camp, about school, about his pet cat, about how he got that scab on his knee.  Clive is a very chatty young man, and not a bad conversationalist either.  Clive is also very easily amused by the little thing that shoots water into the bowl you spit in, since I’ve convinced him that it’s magic by flipping the on/off switch when he’s not looking.  Clive giggles and giggles and looks so amazed every time the water comes on.  Magic!

Then the dentist comes in and it’s time to numb little Clive’s mouth.  All of a sudden he’s a bucket of tears.  He scoots himself all the way up to the top of the dentist chair, like maybe he can escape through the ceiling, as the dentist trys to calmly but firmly get him to open his little mouth so he can apply  the topical anesthetic so he won’t even feel the needle on the novacaine.  Little Clive cries and cries, and I hold his hand so he’ll stop grabbing at the dentist’s hand in his mouth.  He squeezes it.  The dentist asks, “does that hurt?” Little Clive shakes his head.  ”You’re just scared?” the dentist asks.  Little Clive nods.  ”That’s ok,” the dentist says, “you’re being very brave and we’re almost done.”  As soon as the needle is out of his mouth, little Clive looks around bewilderedly and starts telling me about the stuffed gorilla that he got for his birthday one month ago.  It’s big, though not as big as a real gorilla.

The dentist leaves to go start working on Clive’s brother’s cavity, and Clive and I get back to our discussion of the scab on his knee and other related topics, like the bruise on his arm.  He is a five year-old boy, and this is summer, after all.  He’s still climbing around the chair, but less like he’s trying to escape and more like he’s training for the circus.  Down the hall, we hear Clive’s brother crying.

Clive looks at me.  ”He’s crying,” Clive says.

I nod.

“I can cry too!” he declares, and commences on a fake wail that sounds all too much like his “I’m scared of novacaine” wail we’d heard just a few minutes earlier.

“I don’t think that’s going to help your brother feel better,” I say, and Clive smiles, apparently less concerned with empowering his brother during this difficult time and more impressed with his own fake crying abilities.  He lets out a few more wails.

“Clive,” I say, “they’re going to think something’s wrong with you and come running to see you, and they’ll have to leave your brother in the middle of his filling.  That’s not a very nice thing to do to your brother, if nothing’s really wrong.”

Clive smiles again.  And wails again.

It’s not my favorite part of the day.

At this point, I decide to tell Clive a story.  I start by saying, “Clive, have you ever heard the story of the boy who cried wolf?”

Clive stops wailing and looks at me.  A story.  ”No!” he says. “Tell me!”

So I start to tell him, and from the get-go, from the opening line about  a shepherd in some made up fable who has to protect a flock from wolves, I begin to wonder about this wisdom of this decision.  What does little Clive know about sheep and wolves?  What the heck does little Clive care?  But Clive listens attentively.

When we get to the end, when there really is a wolf and the boy cries it, and nobody believes him and nobody comes, Clive looked at me, wide-eyed.  ”What happened?!?!

I shrug.  ”He had fight the wolf himself.”

Clive looked at me still: “AND?!?!”

At this point, I fully regret my boy-who-cried-wolf story decision.  Since when have I become so moralistic? Since when have I believed in motivating good behavior in children by scaring them?  Since when have relished the told-you-so of “teaching them a lesson”??  This isn’t me.  I looked at little Clive, his little lip a little puffy from the novacaine.

“The boy got fired from being a shepherd.” I said.

“He DID?!?!” Clive asked.

“Yep,” I said, looking off out the window, wishing the story were over.  ”And he had to get a new job, and it was in the trash department.”

“He had to make GARBAGE?!?!” little Clive asked.

“No,” I clarify, “he had to clean up garbage.  It was totally gross.”

“Eeewwww,” Clive says, smiling.  ”That was a good story.  Tell me another.”  He had obviously missed any connection between my story and his current situation, and for that, I was glad.

“No,” I said, “you tell me one.”

So he did, and we went back and forth, until we quit noticing whether his brother was crying and the dentist came in to fix up his cavity.  It was then that we discovered that little Clive’s little cavity was so huge that it went all the way down to his nerve.  Little Clive, with horror on his face, squeezed my hand as the dentist drilled away big chunks of his little tooth.  He couldn’t cry because of how his mouth was propped open and blocked with a rubber dam.  My only consolation was that he wasn’t lying there thinking, she told me so…

The procedure went quickly enough, and little Clive was on his way, though he’ll be back in two weeks so we can finish things up.  I suggested that next time, he bring his stuffed gorilla along with him to hold while he’s getting his teeth fixed.  He smiled and gave me a hug.  Little Clive and his little teeth.

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cowboy's mom
Jun 18, 2009 at 8:17 am

little 5 year old clive has my sympathies . . .(and also a very great name!)

Molly Sue Richmon
Aug 3, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Fantastic story. You appear to be a great assistant. You inspire me. Keep up the good work!



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