A dentist’s office is a gold mine for illustrators or authors. A stranger with a mask shines a light in your eyes. There are macabre, sharp objects. Sound is everywhere, none of it familiar. This is the place with drills and needles. Most adults grimace at the thought of visiting the dentist. We have memories, both imagined and real. None of them are happy. Now, think about what it must be like for a child.
“We start out with a happy visit,” says Melissa Latham, a Hygienist at the Shelton Dental Center. “The idea is to get them [the child] comfortable with the things we use. They’ll get to play with the air and water and maybe even the suction straw.”
Latham recommends scheduling a happy visit when a child first starts getting teeth. That’s typically around six months of age. The visit lasts roughly 30 minutes. During this time the dentist will do an oral exam and discuss preventative care. “We talk to parents about how to brush their child’s teeth and about establishing a good routine at home,” says Latham.
So what does that look like? Cutting back on juice intake is a start and soda is out of the question. Also, try not to let your child go to bed with a bottle because sugars in milk stick to the teeth. “Wipe or brush off their [the child’s] teeth after feeding,” recommends Latham.
And be careful with snacks. “Crackers and cookies get stuck in the grooves and make a child more prone to cavities,” says Latham. Fruits and vegetables are a good alternative but they too can get lodged between teeth. Latham says it’s a good idea to give a child something to drink, preferably water, to help remove leftover food.
Getting a kid to brush his or her teeth can be challenging. Infants and toddlers may simply not understand. Latham advises parents to make the activity fun. “Let the child play with the toothbrush first and then work on getting them used to you brushing their teeth.” Another suggestion is to simply make it a family event. “Okay, we’re all going to brush our teeth together,” says Latham.
Of course prevention doesn’t always work. Eating right, brushing, flossing and using fluoride are not cure-alls. Problems still arise. A cavity may need to be filled and that means a shot. A shot means pain and a needle – a real big one (gulp). “We try not to let the kids see the needle,” says Latham.
The dentists and staff at the Shelton Dental Center have several tricks to help children including distraction. “We have them try and wiggle their big toe,” explains Latham. “We also use kid-friendly terms like the doctor is going to make your tooth nice and sleepy.”
Helping a child not be afraid could be as simple as timing. Says Latham, “kids do a lot better first thing in the morning. In the afternoon they might be tired or hungry.” Parents are encouraged to let their child go back to the room on their own. This is a tall order and one Latham understands. She’s a mother. “We would stop the procedure if it wasn’t going well and get the parents,” she explains.
Come to think of it, I have a happy memory from the dentist. The toy box. I loved digging through that treasure chest full of countless wonders. I remember sitting in the chair thinking about what I would get. Shelton Dental Center has a toy box and helium balloons. After every visit a child can pick one of each. It seems simple but it’s part of the dental practice’s overall philosophy – the dentist’s office isn’t a place to fear.