June 1st, 2017
I want to share a personal truth. Keeping your child cavity free is NOT my first goal when you walk into my office.
In fact, other dental issues that are not my top priority are brushing, x-rays, plaque, pacifiers, teething, braces or how often you’re flossing. (I know it was the last time we flossed your child’s teeth six months ago!)
In actuality, my number one goal is to get your child to become a great dental patient for life. Before I look for cavities or gingivitis, I’m thinking about how we’re going to create a positive experience.
To do this, we create a warm and caring environment with the right people doing the right things. We establish trust with your child so that we can have a great experience in the dental office.
Having a positive dental appointment isn’t always an easy thing to do. Sometimes, I have children walk through the door in tears. Some have had bad dental experiences elsewhere, and some simply don’t like strangers or they just might not like me!
Did I mention that I also use things like drills and shots and other scary things? Not a great combination when your goal is an easy relaxing appointment, but I’ve learned something over the years from my favorite group of patients to treat.
When I first started practicing, one the aspects that I enjoyed most was working with children on the Autism Spectrum. Some patients on the spectrum wouldn’t walk into the office or get in the chair to allow an examination.
Dentists like things certain ways; we will obsess over a half millimeter. Most of us are type A personalities. I found with many of the autistic patients, I couldn’t work on “dentist” terms. I had to play the game on their terms. That meant breaking down each appointment into small steps. Sometimes just sitting in the chair took one or two appointments. Sometimes counting fingers as opposed to teeth took an entire appointment. We always tried to find something that they could do as opposed to worrying about what they couldn’t do.
What we found was that over time (sometimes months, sometimes years), we’d get a little better and a little closer to a full dental appointment. All of a sudden, we had children on the spectrum going from not sitting in the chair to getting a true cleaning. We had children who wouldn’t sit still for an examination taking a panoramic X-ray. Big strides and accomplishments were cheered and celebrated.
We took that same process and applied it to every other patient that walks into our practice. We go slow, focusing on the things that they can do, and we celebrate when they accomplish something they couldn’t do before. Any time I have a young patient, and I’m not 100% sure how they are going to react to an exam or counting teeth, I always start with counting fingers. Then we count ears. Then we count noses. I do this because all children will let you count their fingers before they will let you count their teeth. We always try and start with something they can do, building trust that way. And almost all dental treatment can be completed, easily and painlessly, once trust is established.
My wife is a general dentist. I like to say I that helped her through dental school, but the truth is that she “probably” helped me more. She sees too many adults, myself included, with dental anxieties and fears. Those fears didn’t start when they were 20 or 35. They started when they were 3 or 8 or 11. That’s why when you walk into my office, my first thought isn’t “Wow. We really need to brush along the gum line around teeth S and T.” It’s “How can we give this child a great experience?” so that when that child is an adult, he/she will think “Why wouldn’t I go to the dentist every six months?”
I’ve been a board-certified pediatric dentist for almost ten years. I work at one of the busiest children’s hospitals in the country. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that positive repetitive dental appointments should be the cornerstone of a pediatric dental practice.