Conquering the Pediatric Dentist Office with my Highly Sensitive Child


Never has it been more apparent that my two kids’ personalities are polar opposites – we’re talking night and day – than when I take them to their six month check-ups at their pediatric dentist office. While my daughter {four years old} makes the experience a breeze…following directions, enjoying the unique amenities geared toward kids, and pretty much letting anyone do anything they want to her mouth, my son {turning six this month} has had THE. MOST. DIFFICULT. time there. 

Of course, I have known from about the time he turned three that life with my son would always be a little more challenging. He has always been a questioner – never fully trusting anyone or anything until he has had thorough proof that they are worthy of his trust. As my former parenting coach likes to say, he has a “highly sensitive nervous system,” and it is my job as his mother to know what makes him tick, what stimuli pushes him past his breaking point, and how to talk to him and manage any given situation.

The Disastrous First Visit to the Pediatric Dentist

When he turned one, we entered the very untrustworthy domain of the dentist’s office. I won’t go into details about how there was some patient emergency going on, and how we had to wait an entire hour before I asked for a different dentist, but when it was finally my son’s turn, I had no idea what was in store for me.

We went to the “baby room” with cool cats sitting on crescent moons wallpapered on the walls, and where there is a door that can be closed and screaming is to be expected. The assistants advised for me to lay down on the chair and then have him lay down {his back to my front} on top of me. The overhead lights were the first big “no-no,” despite being given really cool sunglasses to help block the light. Getting him to just lay back on me was like pulling teeth, pun intended. Then, there was the part of actually having to open his mouth and let someone look in there with tools and electronically powered brushes…well, you can imagine the debacle. There were so many tears, lots of screaming and sitting back up so no one could do their job, and very frustrated dental staff.

I was in total shock, and basically frozen as I tried to calm my baby down, and reassure him that everything was OK. Most of that appointment is a blur, except for the fact that it felt excruciatingly long. I remember leaving the office feeling exhausted, and it was only 9:30 a.m. I told my husband how terrible that experience was, and wondered if it was really necessary for him to be going to the dentist that early in his life. Besides, he only had like four teeth at the time. But our pediatrician was passionate about continued dental care from 12 months onward, and I tend to do what I’m told.

A Rough Few Years

The next several dental check-ups with my son were not any better. I would brace myself before walking in with him. I would distract him with the toys, video games and other awesome things they had there for the kids. I would let him look at my phone while we were waiting on staff members to do their thing. Each appointment took place in the kitty room, with him laying on top of me. Screaming and crying would ensue. I kept threatening my husband it was his turn next time. He has yet to experience this joyous appointment.

Then he turned three, and it was time to take X-rays of his mouth. I feel like I could stop here and you would understand where I’m going with this. Let’s just say it took FOUR separate appointments {so we’re talking two years} to get a complete image of his mouth. The cute animals on the lead jacket didn’t fool him. Being able to touch the camera and see what it does did nothing to stop him from ensuring it didn’t get close to his face. Putting that plastic thing in his mouth to separate his teeth, well, there were many gags and we ultimately got pictures without those dreadful little suckers.

A Dental Hygienist Sent from Above

When he went in for his five-and-a-half-year check-up, the clouds suddenly parted. Not because my son had changed, and all-of-the-sudden trusted of the environment, but because we got assigned a dental hygienist sent from above. Her name is Yaose. This amazing woman explained to me that she has a son of her own, he is about the same age as my son, and her son has very similar sensitivities.

For the first time ever, we didn’t get moved to the baby room. For the first time ever, my son laid back and stayed laying down without me underneath him. Yaose was patient. She encouraged him to explore the things going into his mouth. She let him have a little control – and this was key to the appointment’s success. She named the Waterpik “Mr. Water Squirter” and let my son be the one to spray it in his mouth. She let him use it many more times than was necessary, but remained completely calm and cool. I wanted to give her the largest embrace once she was done cleaning his teeth, but instead, I told just told her she was exactly who my son needed, and that we would request her from now on!

What I learned from our most successful pediatric dentist appointment

  1. My son needed to be able to control something, ANYTHING…to not feel like he had to relinquish all the power over to strangers.
  2. He needed someone to be on his level, making the experience feel like a game, including naming Waterpiks and talking about how they want to wash away all the toothpaste and sugar bugs.
  3. I also instinctively kept my hand on his legs or tummy, letting him know I was right by his side, and for him to feel reassured by my touch. It’s kind of like the weighted blanket idea, which has proven to help humans and pets alike with anxiety.
  4. And lastly, I verbally praised him for staying out in the big kid area of the pediatric dentist, and for doing such an awesome job this time letting the lady clean his teeth. I might have been overly ecstatic, but the relief I felt at the end of this appointment was so great, and I needed him to feel proud of how far he had come.

Research suggests that nearly 20 percent of the population is born with a highly sensitive nervous system. That is a pretty significant amount, and not enough people falling outside of that spectrum know how to comfort or handle these sensitive people. As mothers, we know that being our child’s advocate in all arenas of life is our number one priority. My hope is that if your child falls within this sensitive range, you can be proactive {and not let four years go by, like I did!} by finding the best way to make them feel safe in places like the pediatric dentist office, or anywhere else in the world.

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Originally from Denver, Colorado, Emily moved to Sugar Land, Texas as a young girl. She studied journalism and psychology at UT Austin, and has experience in newspaper reporting, technical writing, and freelance writing. When she can, she works on writing her first-ever book. Somehow, Emily randomly ends up living abroad for short stints of time. In 2007, while attempting to heal a broken heart, she moved to Bilbao, Spain, and completed a six-month work-study program. Despite swearing off serious relationships, her husband, Oren, swooped in shortly after her return. They struggled with infertility, but were ultimately rewarded with their two precious children, Mayer {June 2013} and Juliet {April 2015}. In 2019, Emily’s family relocated to Montpellier, France, for Oren’s job. They managed to learn the language, forever spoiled their taste buds, and saw some really beautiful things. Now back in Houston, they are eating all the Tex-Mex and enjoying family.


  1. Thank you so much for this post. We had to stop midway through our cleaning and I insisted we were done for the day even though the hygienist said we needed to “pin her down”. Nope… not happening. I knew good and well if we pinned my daughter down she would never come back. On top of being a sensitive child, she has a horrible gag reflex. She was in fight or flight mode. We already switched pediatricians bc her first was not patient enough with her, and I have learned like you said we are their best advocate!


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