When Normal Isn't Normal: A Trip to the Dentist

My son Nicholas has been seen by a dentist many times, but he’s never really had his teeth examined.  He’s never had a dental x-ray and he’s never had his back teeth scaled and polished.

Nick has severe cerebral palsy and for him, that means he has an uncontrollable bite reflex.  He’ll chomp down hard on anything in his mouth, including the dentist’s finger.

Now that our young man is 25 years old and we can actually see a cavity in one of his molars, we began investigating dental treatment options.  A couple of months ago, we went to the dental clinic at our local hospital – the destination for anyone in our city whose health condition makes dentistry impossible at a typical walk-in clinic.  “Oh, your son’s teeth look great!” exclaimed the petite blonde dentist.  “But if he’s never had an x-ray, we’ll have to do that.  He’ll have to be asleep for that here at the hospital.  We can do whatever work is required at the same time.”  I nodded, thinking she meant light sedation with me in the room to monitor Nick’s comfort and be his ‘translator’.  Wrong.  I forgot how not normal we are.

Yesterday, we all went along to the hospital for the pre-operative assessment and five hours later, I came home with instructions to prepare Nicholas for a general anaesthetic with intubation.  A nurse from the care home where Nick now lives will have to come with us in order to closely monitor his respiration in the recovery room.  In the old days, this was my role in our children’s hospital, but adult hospitals prohibit anyone but a qualified healthcare professional from entering the recovery room.

My husband and I weighed the risks of a general anaesthetic against the benefits of routine dental work.   Before the signing the consent for surgery, we consulted again with the dentist.  She remarked, “We do not know the condition of Nick’s back teeth.  If he develops an abscess or other painful infection, he will need to wait until an operating room becomes available.  That could take days or even weeks, because a painful tooth will not be a priority.”   For us, that sealed the deal.  This Friday, we will be at the hospital to have a routine dental checkup in a very abnormal manner.

For caregivers, lots of mundane tasks and routine responsibilities are anything but normal.  Perhaps for us, normal is our own personal way of getting through the day and getting the job done.