When confronted with a kid who doesn’t brush or wear elastics, our first instinct as orthodontists is to say something like, “Susie, why haven’t you been brushing your teeth?!?!” but as soon as those words escape our lips we know what mom will do. Mom will get upset and assertively say something like, “Susie brushes her teeth ten times a day and is a perfect angel. I watch her brush and I know she is doing what she is supposed to. How dare you question that?”
We are shocked every time this happens. What is going on here? Why is mom getting upset with us for trying to help her child and avoid cavities? How dare her question my integrity?!?! I can tell by looking at this child that she is not brushing properly, much less flossing! I know inflammation when I see it! Geez this is so frustrating.
Perhaps it is time to change tactics to avoid the upsets rather than stubbornly repeating the same behavior and being “shocked” when we get a negative response? What is mom really saying to you?
“I am a good parent and I do the best I can and you have no idea what it is like to try and handle three kids and get them where they need to be and work and do everything else. I don’t need you telling me I’m not a good parent. How dare you judge me?” is what mom is actually saying when you accuse Susie of not brushing. That combined with the lioness protecting her cub creates angst and sends mom over the top almost every time. So what can we do to get the message across and not piss momma off?
My dad, Dr. Skeet Burris, taught me how to handle this situation not long after I finished residency. I’ve used his technique for my entire career and have shared it with thousands of orthodontists and I hope you’ll find it as useful as I do. Whenever I see that Susie is not brushing properly I say, “Susie, why aren’t you listening to your momma?” Mom’s ears perk up, Susie looks confused and I continue, “Susie, I know your momma tells you every morning and every night to brush your teeth, why aren’t you doing what she asks?” At this point mom stands up and walks over to the chair – just in time to say, “Doc, I don’t know what to do, I tell that child to brush all the time… I guess I’ll have to brush them for her if she doesn’t straighten up.” And then I say, “I know what you mean mom. I was a hard headed kid too and it took me a long time to realize how smart my momma was and I suffered for it!” Then I stand next to mom and put my arm on her shoulder and say, “Susie, this is the winning team (pointing to mom and me) so you should go ahead and get on board or get run over.” Mom smiles and agrees and then I can do whatever I want with mom’s blessing. Brushing instruction, remove the wires, remove the braces, whatever… and mom will be fine with it because I’m not attacking her or her child.
Simple. Effective. I wish all of life were this easy! When in doubt just remember “Don’t Piss Momma Off”.