Shocking statistics indicating that tooth decay is now the most common chronic disease among children around the world will have come as no surprise to dentists. This global epidemic has far-reaching effects on child wellbeing, causing a whole host of problems from failure to thrive and speech delay to problems with self-esteem and of course, long term oral health issues.
Dentists are on the front line in the war on child tooth decay – not only because they have to perform the extractions and fillings, but because they are a parent’s main source of knowledge when it comes to keeping their child’s teeth healthy. But even one of the biggest barriers to oral health today is still fear of the dentist – and you can’t help families who are reluctant to come and see you in the first place! No parent likes to see their child in distress, and many dentists find treating terrified children extremely stressful.
The key to all of this is friendly, gentle dentistry from the very start – setting kids up with positive experiences of the dentist from before their first teeth have even popped through. Here are a few tips on treating those younger patients to help allay any fears they may have about seeing the dentist.
Tips for treating kids
Pregnant women receive free dental treatment so this is a great time to inform your expectant patients about dental care for their new baby.Lots of mums wait until well after their child’s first birthday before taking them to the dentist for the first time – and many don’t take their children regularly at all.Encourage mums to bring their babies in for their first check up once they have a milk tooth, or by six months.Even if they don’t have teeth, it’s all about familiarizing young children with the environment and their dentist so they’re less likely to be afraid later on.
Make children feel welcome by including child-sized chairs, engaging oral health posters hung low on the walls, and maybe a low table with some crayons and colouring pages – you could even hang their artwork up in a gallery!Leave a model mouth and some toothbrushes so they can practice cleaning teeth and take opportunities when you have time to get to their level and show them how it’s done!Making kids feel welcome and relaxed helps to reduce any shyness or fear that could make examining their teeth stressful for you both!
When seeing a young patient for the first time, make sure to say hello!Tell them your name, and maybe a fun fact about yourself – and don’t forget to ask about them too – do they have siblings?Where do they go to school?What are their hobbies?Speak to the child directly when possible, rather than asking their guardian these questions.The same goes for giving advice on oral health – explain it to them in simple language and help them take some responsibility for their own oral hygiene.
Kids cope with everything better when they know what’s going on, so talk to them about what you’re going to be doing, and show them or even let them handle the tools you’re going to use (you can keep a box of non-sterile implements handy for this purpose!).Avoid jargon or technical terms – you might call your saliva ejector a vacuum cleaner, and your syringe tip a water pistol.Reassure them that the tools you use are designed to be gentle, that you won’t hurt them, and that you’ll stop any time they want – all they have to do is ask.
Some might argue that having healthy teeth is a reward in itself but when it comes to taking away a good impression from the dentist, a little gift goes a long way with pint-sized patients!You might consider giving away a new toothbrush and paste, but even a simple sticker and plenty of praise is usually enough to put a smile on their faces and leave them happy to return to you in six months’ time.