Working as a dentist, I met some really interesting people from a wide variety of backgrounds. One of my favourites was when a three (and a half!) year old Superman came along with his parents for his first dental check-up.
He had come to see me because his parents felt that it was important that they instilled good habits about the importance of looking after teeth. They had had negative experiences of dentistry as children themselves after needing teeth removed due to eating lots of sweets.
When I first met Superman, he was three and a half years old.
From his perspective, walking into a strange smelling room with a bizarre looking chair (or might it be a bed) and seeing two unfamiliar faces was a very scary thing. He looked around the room with big eyes: he knew there was something in those drawers behind the weird chair-thingy. He might have been 3 & a half years old but he wasn’t stupid. What was it that might be in those drawers? His x-ray vision failed him – they must be lined with lead.
As he scanned the room for more danger, he spotted a small silver tray on a small, odd looking table. This, covered with a white tissue, looked like something to keep a close eye on. It probably wasn’t as dangerous as the unknown contents of the lead lined drawer, but you could never be too careful.
Now, everyone knows that pressing buttons is fun… and just as there is a strong urge to want to check paint wherever there is a sign that reads, “wet paint,” buttons that aren’t supposed to be pressed can also be appealing. Superman had spotted buttons.
I invited Superman to press the buttons. The chair (or was it a bed) moved! This wee Superman had not yet acquired his flying skill and this provided him with a taste. He discovered that it could go REALLY high and that he could lie him down and the chair would sit him up again. He began to see that there could be an upside to visiting this peculiar smelling strange room.
Whilst on the chair, Superman’s bravery skill kicked in and he pointed at the funny looking things with long wires next to the chair. I explained to him that I didn’t have the ability of super-strength blowing, x-ray eyes or super strength but I did have some other cool stuff I could play with.
I asked him if he would like to play with my favourite… a water gun that also blew air super-fast. We managed to get a little wet, as did his parents! It was fun.
Now, it was time to fly whilst I counted his teeth.
Superman climbed back onto the huge chair (or was it a bed) and opened his mouth super wide. We gave him some special glasses so that his laser vision didn’t burn a hole in the ceiling.
Superman lived up to his name and kept his mouth super-wide so I could count his super teeth.
… You see, in order that their son not repeat their experiences, Superman’s parents had never given him sweets. Instead, he was given a box of raisins, often a couple a day for good behaviour or just for a treat. What they didn’t realise is that raisins are full of sugar. Whilst it is natural sugar, as far as bacteria in the mouth are concerned, there is no difference. Many of the teeth in this Superman’s mouth showed signs of decay.
Over the next few visits, Superman and I perfected the skills of shooting accurately with the water and air “gun”. He got to feel the ticklyness of a special cleaning brush and play with a miniature “spoon.” Using his super vision to look in a mirror, he saw how his teeth changed and that it was okay and at the end of each visit, chose his reward sticker.
Whilst coming to see me, Superman developed another skill: the confidence that coming to the dentist was okay. This was a skill he passed onto his parents who decided to come back for check-ups of their own.
Sometimes, we all wish that we were Superman. I know I have wished that there was a super hero in me, especially when faced with having to do something I am scared of. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have a secret superhero costume hiding in our wardrobes. Most of us, facing difficult tasks have to wear our superhero costume in the guise of everyday clothing.
Perhaps, the next time you have to do something scary, think what “superpower” you could take. Maybe it’s a magic piece of blue-tac you can fiddle with, magic controlled breathing or a hanky sprayed with a familiar smell.
Finally, remember even superheroes aren’t invincible and need help from others. Don’t forget the inner super-power of courage to ask for help; from friends, family or professionals.
Finally, finally! If you are having a hard time and feel you would like to explore this with a counsellor then get in touch.
Newcastle Counselling, meeting you wherever you are on your personal journey.