Margaret has practiced in multi-disciplined dental practices, perio and now has found her home in pediatrics. She enjoys spending time promoting dental hygiene and helping to bring quality continuing education to practicing hygienists.
Do you remember your first few dental visits as a child?
I do. Vividly. They were painful and I couldn’t wait to get out of the chair. Once, I even bit down on the drill thinking it would go faster and I could leave sooner!
Dental visits can be scary, and first visits really can make or break your experience for many years to come, if not a lifetime.
So what do you do when you have a 2-year-old first-timer on your schedule? Instead of sweating, here are a few tips that seem to work for me.
A Smile Goes a Long Way First, I greet the patient with a smile! I call them by their name and ask if they’d like to pick out a new toothbrush before showing them to their chair. Keep up on the latest movie or fad, like the Baby Shark Song, superheroes or the Frozen movie, and make some familiar small talk. Let them know you’re happy to see them and SMILE!
The Chair Can Be Optional Sometimes the chair can be scary, and if they don’t want to get in, that’s OK.
If that’s the case, I’ll sit in my operator chair while the patient stands. I start by pulling out the toothbrush they picked and ask if they can show me how they brush their teeth. By age 2, most children have been introduced to a toothbrush so it’s usually something they’re already familiar with.
Then I’ll ask if I can brush their teeth and show them something new. Tell-show-do is a great way to have fun!
Give Your Tools a Fun Name An air-water syringe might look a little intimidating to a toddler who’s never seen one before. Personifying it with a name, like Mr. Thirsty, and letting them try it themselves goes a long way.
You can also think up fun names for your instruments and prophy angles, if you can manage getting a prophy into that first appointment! Make sure you have some kid-friendly paste flavors on hand, such as chocolate or birthday cake – something familiar with a positive association.
After they feel comfortable, I’ll ask if I can count their teeth. I count with just my fingers to start. Then I ask if they can look up in the sky so I can see their top teeth using my “superhero” mirror.
Evaluate what they’ll tolerate. Don’t be afraid to get on their level and even sing with them – the ABC alphabet song is universal!
Go Knee-To-Knee If I need a better view, I might try a knee-to knee exam. I’ll have the child sit on the parent’s lap facing the parent, with their legs on either side of them. Then I’ll have the child lay in my lap for an exam while the parent holds the child’s hands down by their belly.
If the child cries or screams, make sure the parent understands that you’re not hurting them, just doing the best you can! Sometimes this first visit alerts you and the parent to the fact that a little more treatment is necessary to get their oral health on track.
Keep It Simple and Short Even if you just get to brush, at least you introduced them to the office and they won’t be as fearful for their next visit. If further treatment is needed, make sure the treatment plan is communicated to the parent in terms they understand.
First visits can be harrowing, or we can turn them into a fun-filled event. It depends on the patient, the attitude and cooperation of the parents, and the approach of the practitioner.