During my career as a dental assistant, I transitioned from a general to a pediatric dental practice. I never considered how different the environment would be in this setting. Oftentimes, parents take their children to a pediatric dentist to help them get used to going to the dental office. One thing that I quickly learned was that sometimes, the fear the children had when visiting the dentist was involuntary. I also learned that the dental experience for a child starts even before they enter the office. Because of this, it is important that they, along with their parents, have a positive experience before, during and after the appointment in order to increase the his or her interest in their oral hygiene. There are many factors that contribute to this.
Ambiance: When the child enters the dental practice, the environment paints a picture of each employee in the office and the culture as a whole. A clean and bright office with cartoon characters on the wall gives the child a feeling of a friendly, welcoming environment.
Office staff: The receptionist is the first person the family will meet as soon as they enter the office. Children often stand beside their parents and listen to the conversation, so greeting the parent and the child with a smile can get the appointment off to a good start. Many times, parents ask questions about the practice and what their child can expect during the visit, and the office staff can help by explaining how the appointment will go. Depending on the patient’s age, it may be more helpful to directly explain this to him or her so they feel comfortable as well. The front desk staff can also encourage the parent(s) to reinforce the information with their child/children once they get home.
Dental assistant: Children are typically accompanied to the operatory by a dental assistant. Conversing with them before starting any procedures may help calm their nerves. Additionally, taking notes about what the child likes will help initiate conversations during subsequent visits. Some clinics have television that help keep patients occupied during the appointment.
Dentist: When communicating with the parent, dentists should avoid using words that might alarm them or the child. Initiate conversations with the patient by asking about school or recent activities to establish rapport. Children are receptive to this type of dialogue and will start talking about the things they like. Before beginning a procedure, explain what they can expect in simple terms. The dentist should always be open and honest with patients, particularly children, as this can lead to stronger trust at subsequent appointments. During a procedure, continuously praising them for doing well helps keep them motivated. And when patients do well, giving them rewards at the end of their appointment helps promote future positive behaviors.
These ideas and more can contribute to a successful pediatric dentistry visit. Discussions with the parent(s) before the appointment, a positive environment and a welcoming dental team all ensure the comfort of each patient, thus helping create a long-lasting dedication to good oral hygiene.
~Arshia Zuber, CDA