Most of our fears, including the fear of the dental office, are deeply rooted in our childhood. If you were a child of the 60‘s or 70‘s, that fear may have been borne of methods that were taught in dental school, such as HOM (hand-over-mouth). Whether it’s an outdated patient management technique, the needle, or the sound of the drill, these childhood experiences can have psychological sequelae that can last a lifetime.
Although the techniques of old are far less prevalent these days, there are still things that a practitioner one can do to enhance the childhood dental experience. Today, parents are generally more informed and concerned about their children’s dental health, and as such are more aware of the importance of regular dental visits.
The following are some ‘kid friendly’ things that you can do in your office to make it more suited to children’s need:
Update Your Waiting Room
If possible, the waiting room should be either a specific room or designated area for children to play in that is safe and visible to parents and staff. A few things that you might consider adding to your waiting room to make it fun and distracting for kids:
• Television (with a healthy number of cartoon channels or DVDs of some children’s movies)
• Toys of various kinds – puzzles, Rubik’s Cube™, build-a-block etc. Anything that keeps their minds active
• Comic books and illustrated story books
• Chairs or furnishings that are smaller sized for children.
Distractions in the Operatory
The general child-friendly atmosphere that you built in the waiting room should continue into the operatory. If you have many young clients, consider the following ‘op features’:
• A smaller dental chair, in which the child will feel more comfortable.
• TVs attached to the ceiling. Nothing more distracting than a child’s favourite show or movie in their view while undergoing a dental procedure. -Engage your young clients. Talk to the child about casual topics like school and play. Try to win their trust and respect their opinion. Children like to know that their opinion is being considered for grown up matters.
• Tell, Show, Do. During the procedure, include them in it and explain to them the various steps being taken, before following through on a particular step of the procedure.
If a child is particularly nervous, you may wish to have the parents present during the visit (although, this can be a double-edged sword, particularly if the parent themselves is an anxious dental patient).
The Treasure Box…Happy Endings
Make a lasting impression at the end of the visit. Have a range of small gifts to reward children for their good behaviour. This also acts as an incentive to remind them they had a good visit. To emphasize the ‘reward for good behaviour’, you can offer a sugar-free or healthy snack. Play small games or quiz the child on basics of dental hygiene and gift him or her for the right answer. You can even create suspense by promising an even bigger gift if they come with clean teeth for their next dental visit.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, do not patronize young patients, and do make sure that the office staff are well trained to deal with them. A well trained staff that can manage and deal with an anxious child, that can help the child to calm themselves before the dental checkup, are an important part of making the experience as pleasant as possible.