Studies indicate about 20% of children aged 2 and 4 have tooth decay while 86% of them have some form of tooth decay by the time they’re 17. The growing oral health problems in children necessitate the need for regular dental visits starting early on in life. The age 1 dental visits have thus become popular more than ever.
As a dentist expecting to receive young visitors frequently in your office, you want to make sure your office both looks and feels child friendly, to help parents and children alike feel more comfortable. Here are some tips that would help you make your dental practice more kid friendly.
Start with the waiting room
Making the waiting area more welcoming to young kids helps calm those dental-visit jitters and make them feel at home. Distraction is one of the best methods to help reduce anxiety in children. To help distract little ones, having a small section dedicated to young kids can help. An aquarium also keeps kids busy exploring, while an activity table or a fun mirror could build a welcoming atmosphere (and maybe even cause a few laughs).
In general, try to step out of that usual-dental-office décor and give the area a more colorful touch. Studies have indicated that 63% of children prefer a decorated dental office than a plain one. Hence, having more colors and pictures of cartoon characters, animals, or other kid-friendly scenes will greatly help.
Make sure you have a welcoming staff
The way your staff welcomes the little patients creates an important first impression about your dental practice. Instruct your staff to first greet the parent with their first name. This helps to establish a level of trust with the child. When the child knows Mom or Dad already knows this new person, they’re likely to feel less intimidated. Moreover, when greeting the young ones, always crouch in front of them and get down to their eye level. Towering over a child may make them feel threatened, especially in an unfamiliar atmosphere.
While you make the dental office more decorated and colorful, make sure you maintain your professional personal appearance. Don’t be fooled by thinking children will feel more comfortable around you in a colorful or fun outfit. In fact, one study involving 583 children shows that 90% of the children who had been to the dentist preferred their dentist to wear a white coat.
So, keep the colors for your walls, and be friends with the same old white coat.
Children feel less anxious when dentists talk to them and explain what’s happening. Like adults, they want to know what’s going on. However, consider using terms a child will understand easily, like referring to x-rays as pictures and a lead apron as a heavy jacket. And while you’re explaining, avoid saying anything like “this won’t hurt!” It might not even occur to them that “anything” could hurt during the procedure, so bringing attention to the potential for pain is just a recipe for disaster.
Keep talking to them!
Distracting kids is an excellent way to make them feel less anxious. To distract them from the actual procedure, keep talking to them about their interests, school and friends. This keeps their mind away from what’s actually going on.
Don’t ask – command. Albeit politely.
In an effort to be polite with kids, dentists often tend to “ask” them to do things, which actually doesn’t work out for them. For example, if you want them to have a seat and you say “Do you want to have a seat in this chair?”, the odds are high they’ll say no, which will just create more trouble for you. Instead, when you tell them politely “Please have a seat in this chair. Thank you!”, you get better results.
Involve the parents
When you get a call from a parent who wants to bring their child in, don’t just book an appointment and hope for the best. Instead involve the parents and get their help in making sure the child’s appointment goes well. Give suggestions to parents on how to prepare the child for the dental visit and give them information about what to expect during the visit. Also, discourage them from passing on their own dental fears to the child.
Talk to the parents and ask them about the child. Get to know the child’s interests, school and favorite things. When you know these little details about the child, it’s much easier to give the impression that you’re “friends”.
When fear presents itself, deal with it!
If, however, fear presents itself, deal with it calmly without showing any kind of annoyance or frustration. Raising your voice and threatening kids can damage your relationship with them and can also affect the success of a treatment. In the end, if nothing works, sedation might be the only route to no-fear dentistry.
Research has shown kids who aren’t afraid of the dentist grow up to be adults who take better care of their teeth. Hence, providing quality dental care and building trust with your young patients is actually an investment in their future.