We treat many children in our practice. We also have many patients that have “grown up” in our practice. Caring for children can be challenging, but also very rewarding. It is tremendously satisfying to gain a child’s trust after managing their care under trying circumstances.
It takes a village…
Seeing their confidence grow and knowing that they are leaving our office with a sense of accomplishment and pride makes everyone’s effort worthwhile. And when we say effort, we mean everyone’s – ours, the child and their parents/caregivers.
The influence parents/caregivers have over their child’s attitudes towards dental health and responsibility makes their role very significant to us and our efforts. Although, we may agree on what an ideal child patient may be like, there is not really what you would call a “typical” child patient. That is because the behaviours, needs and temperaments of children differ so vastly. In fact, a child may behave one way one day and entirely different the next visit. At Your Smile Dental Care we are parents ourselves, and as such, will treat you child as we would want our own children treated.
Our goal is to complete the planned treatment safely and effectively and provide as comfortable and enjoyable an experience as possible. To accomplish this, we need the co-operation of both the child and parent. This brings into mind the question of …
Parents in the treatment room
We believe that you know your child best. You are oftentimes their only advocate. In the best interests of your child, we all must be on the same page when it comes to managing a fearful or difficult situation. Your child’s focus and attention is an essential part of allowing us to delivery safe, quality care. It is with this in mind that we offer the following guidelines to help to ensure the success of your child’s visit:
Oftentimes, a child’s visit to our office can be more distressing for a parent than the child. Parents can unknowing transmit their own anxieties and fears to their child which, in turn, can affect their attitudes and responses. Sometimes, we find ourselves having to manage both the patient and the parent. You help your child and our team by remaining in control when your child is feeling out of control. If you feel that you are ill-equipped to cope and offer positive support in the treatment room, perhaps you can designate another caregiver to accompany your child in the operatory. Over time, as trust develops, you may find your own anxiety levels improve to the point where you can be an effective partner during treatment.
When we need to give instructions to a child to encourage them to participate responsibly while we care for their teeth, we try to appeal to their age-appropriate sense of obligation, value and logic. However, when there are many distractions in our treatment room, speaking to an apprehensive child and trying to gain their focus and trust can be incredibly difficult. In the treatment room, it is very important that the primary focus and interaction remain between the dental team and the child so that communication and guidance can take place without distractions or interruptions and that confusion does not arise and complicate matters. It is with these consideration in mind that most dentists will ask for your cooperation in remaining a silent partner in the treatment room unless otherwise asked for asked to your assistance and emotional support.
Coming in and out of the treatment room
During dental care can also be extremely disruptive to both the child and dental team. We offer a chair for you to sit on during the dental procedure. If you prefer to read to pass the time along, we have plenty of magazines in the greeting area or invite you to bring your own material.
One family member only in the treatment room
It goes without saying that more than one family member in the room can be a tremendous distraction for the patient and dental team and the room can become crowded and disruptive. Informal checkup visits may allow for a more playful “family experience” in the treatment room, but the care we deliver during more complex, invasive procedures demands more concentration and order. Designate the parent or caregiver that can best support your child and understand the dental after-care instructions given.
Let us work our magic
We are trained to identify certain behaviours and modify our strategies and techniques accordingly. We are accustomed to anticipating sudden movements or outbursts. Hampering our efforts by distracting your child’s attention with words or gestures can escalate an otherwise manageable scenario. We will certainly call upon you for assistance should your intervention become necessary.
Nothing educates a parent more than having an opportunity to see our efforts and the efforts of their child firsthand. Watching our dental team perform helps most parents gain a new appreciation and understanding for the skills needed to navigate an encounter while still providing their child with a positive patient experience.
Although a parent’s intention may be honourable, phrases like, “It’s not going to hurt” can be incorrect or misleading. Your words alone can arouse fear and anxiety where none may have existed. Not all fearful children are uncooperative. Likewise, not all uncooperative children are fearful.
Sometimes, children behave and concentrate better without their parent in the room. If you feel this applies to your child or would like to foster independence, you can always stand just outside the room within ear and eyeshot.
Appreciate that we are trying to establish the type of trusting relationship with your child that will foster a long term healthy, positive and responsible attitude towards their well being that will hopefully remain with them throughout their lives. To do this we need your support. Your own positive words and attitudes are tremendously infectious.
Other concerns that come to mind
Mood – It has been our experience that young children are much more emotionally cooperative between the hours of 9am and 12pm when they are rested, alert and have not spent a long, tiring day at school, possibly worrying about their upcoming appointment. This is an especially important consideration when it is a nervous child’s first visit. Nothing is gained when we expect the best from someone when they are at their worst.
Preparation – Parents have the ability to shape their children’s behaviour and how they deal with their feelings. We understand that keeping a positive attitude when discussing your child’s upcoming visit, without giving them any false hope or misleading details, can be challenging. If you suspect that your child is extremely apprehensive about their dental appointment and time permits, perhaps you can “drop by” the office to pick up the medical history form you will need to complete for their first appointment. This way, they’ll be able to meet some of the staff and leave with a prize from the treasure box. The encounter will be short and sweet and create a sense of familiarity for their next visit. In the meantime, keep conversations brief and simple. We find that the less said, the better, so try not to include too many details. If you are unsure of something, just say so and tell them they can ask us at their appointment.
Dental Language – We all appreciate when complicated, unfamiliar or fearful matters are simplified and explained in terms we understand and can relate to. It helps us be in a better position to make informed decisions and move forward in the problem-solving process. We introduce positive, yet simple language when addressing your child to help breakdown planned treatment into simple terms they can understand and appreciate to help them get through unfamiliar or difficult situations. Our “dental language” may sound over-simplified, but we know it to be an effective way to reduce patient fear and improve behaviour. Our language will grow in sophistication and complexity as your child grows and matures. Our ultimate goal is to equip them the language and knowledge they will need as adults to continue to make wise and informed decisions with respect to their dental health.
Behaviour management techniques – We have seen many children over the years who would not cooperate in other offices. While we are not miracle workers, we do believe in your child and their ability to overcome their fears and anxieties. We are equipped with an array of techniques to identify and manage many different types of behaviours in children in order to complete treatment safely and successfully. Understand however, that if a dentist’s instructions to a child takes on a more serious tone, it is done so with the intent of appealing to a child’s sense of responsibility and to disarm a child’s uncontrollable emotional state. The goal is to not allow a situation to escalate to the point where a child feels less safe and more out of control.
Positive Reinforcements – It is absolutely amazing to see how empowered and confident a child becomes after successfully accomplishing a difficult appointment. The praise that follows helps to strengthen their resolve to trust and behave more positively at their next visit. Your co-operation and trust is also essential in these matters. Together, we can help your child develop courage and create a better dental future for themselves. Children who put forth the effort and determination to succeed should, “Own the moment!” When good behaviour is rewarded quickly and often, additional value is added and positive attitudes are reinforced and strengthened. A parent’s positive follow-up words, smiles, hugs, high-fives etc. are, most definitely the best reward a child can receive.
Previous traumatic experience – When we care for a child that has had a previous traumatic experience, they are already armed with some very concrete ideas about dental offices. Our job is to convince them otherwise and this could take several visits before treatment can be initiated. If a child is in immediate pain or injured, then the dentist is faced with having to accomplish treatment and try to change some of the child’s attitudes and trust issues during the first visit. As dentists, we do our best, but if restoring a child’s teeth will take several , complex treatment appointments, sometimes it is in the child’s best interest to see a children’s specialist where they can be sedated and have all the treatment completed in one visit.
Expectations – There are times when a parent’s expectations for their child and the dental team is just too high or unrealistic. This is especially true in the case where a child has a tremendous amount of treatment necessary. The ultimate goal is to provide the level of care that repairs the dental destruction without further damaging the child psychologically. Together, we can come up with a plan to deliver the care needed while appreciating that children have different abilities and that circumstances differ from child to child and sometimes day to day.
Healthcare is a necessity – Teaching your child that visiting the dentist is a necessity, not a choice, and that the dental team is here to help keep their teeth healthy and beautiful for years to come is one of the best ways to foster a positive attitude. It’s difficult, however, to teach your children responsibility if you are not demonstrating it in your own life. You can hinder or help your child and their experiences based on you own actions and words, so please consider them carefully.
No single method or technique can be used for all children nor every visit. Trusting relationships and coping skills form over time and each interaction with your child is an opportunity for us to establish the rapport and approach that best suits your child.
The long term rewards of treating children successfully is seeing the healthy dental attitudes they develop as the grow into adulthood. Helping children triumph brings us our own tremendous feelings of fulfillment, achievement and pride in our chosen profession and demonstrates to us that our efforts are indeed worthwhile and fruitful.
One thing we have learned over our 30 years of experience is to … Never underestimate the capabilities of children!
The YOUR SMILE Dental Care Team