Nfld. & Labrador

An Innu mom says a dental procedure at the Janeway left her toddler 'traumatized'

An Innu mother is speaking out about a distressing experience with a dentist at the Janeway children’s hospital in St. John’s, which she says left her three-year-old son “traumatized.”

Techniques for pediatric patients designed 'to ensure safety and wellbeing,' says Eastern Health

A person wearing a floral dress holds a small child as he stands on a stone wall on Signal Hill on a sunny day.
Pishum Penashue, right, said her son Owen is having nightmares about his experience with a dental procedure at the Janeway children's hospital in St, John's. (Submitted by Pishum Penashue)

An Innu mother is speaking out about a distressing experience with a dentist at the Janeway children's hospital in St. John's which she says left her three-year-old son "traumatized."

Pishum Penashue, who lives in Sheshatshiu, told CBC News the "rushed" dental procedure left her son screaming in pain and the dentist ignored her pleas to stop.

Penashue brought her son, Owen, to get eight teeth capped at the Janeway. She said the dentist gave her son laughing gas before giving him needles to numb his teeth. Next, the dentist started drilling the bottom teeth.

"That's when Owen jumped and he felt the pain," Penashue said. "He said 'ow!' to the dentist, but he was not stopping. That's when I told him to stop."

Penashue said the dentist paused and told her Owen wasn't actually in pain.

"He said, 'A lot of kids go through this. They're scared, and it's only the texture or the vibration that scares them,'" she said.

Penashue said the dentist resumed, and her boyfriend had to help hold Owen.

"The dentist was holding my son's head down, forced his mouth open with a metal piece," she said.


Penashue said she believes the mask used to administer the laughing gas wasn't properly fitted to her son's face. She said she asked if Owen could be put to sleep, but the dentist said a new appointment would have to be scheduled in an OR.

She said her son's gums were bleeding.

"The dentist kept trying to fit the silver caps on his teeth and just kept ripping them back off and then tried to glue them on," she said.

In a statement provided to CBC News, Eastern Health said it could not comment on details regarding a specific patient, but said treatment options and techniques for pediatric patients are designed "to ensure safety and well-being."

"We appreciate the concerns that have been brought forward in this situation and are committed to taking all necessary actions to ensure the provision of safe and quality patient care. We welcome feedback about the care and services we provide," said the statement.

The Janeway Children's Health and Rehabilitation Centre treats patients from across the province. (Paul Daly/CBC)

According to Eastern Health, parents and guardians provide consent for any child under the age of 16, and are encouraged to discuss treatment options with their health-care provider.

"The dentists at the Janeway collaborate with parents/guardians and, where appropriate, the child to find a balanced and individualized treatment approach that considers the child's cognitive age, maturity level, the urgency of care, the family's wishes and the extent of treatment that is needed," said the statement.

Penashue said her son's treatment was wrong.

"It was really heartbreaking for me to watch him go through that. I just wish I had stopped it when I had the chance," she said.

'Is that normal?'

Penashue said the dentist also seemed to be in a rush to finish the procedure.

"He told me 'everyone is supposed to be getting off in 10 minutes,'" she said. "I just really wish that they were more caring."

In a statement, the Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Association also said it could not comment on specific details about individual patients, but said "behaviour guidance decisions" are catered to the individual child and situation.

"The NLDA trusts that all dentists working in Newfoundland and Labrador, including our pediatric dental specialists at the Janeway, do their best to minimize any concerns or fears from patients while in the dental chair," said the statement.

Penashue said her son had nightmares about the appointment afterward.

"He woke up screaming and crying," she said.

Penashue's father and Owen's grandfather, Paul Rich, said he knew something was wrong when his daughter called after the appointment.

"Is that a normal procedure? Is that normal for a three-year-old to be treated like that?" he asked.

Rich wants to see more health-care services, like dentistry, closer to home.

"I'm very upset and very hurt, whether it's for Innu or Inuit or anybody here from Labrador that has gone through similar experiences when we have to take our people outside and get them treated."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Labrador Morning