“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel!” –Maya Angelou
How are you making your young patients feel when they walk through your doors? Imagine being that timid child sitting in your dental chair for the first time. All the strange noises and smells, mysterious objects and uniforms, and a complete stranger poking around in your mouth…it’s easy to understand how this could be a scary experience. Treating children requires a little extra TLC, but the benefits are plentiful if you take steps to ensure a positive encounter. You will be rewarded with parental loyalty, a more prosperous practice, and perhaps best of all, healthy, happy patients!
So what can you do to make a trip to the dentist office less intimidating for your youngest visitors? We suggest keeping these 8 things top-of-mind!
1. Start With a Whimsical Welcome
Your waiting room is positioned to be a patient’s first impression as they walk through your doors. This moment has the power to set the tone for the rest of the appointment. When creating an inviting space for younger patients, look to include playful design elements. This doesn’t mean you have to fully transform your waiting room into an under-the-sea adventure like our friends at Tiny Teeth Pediatric Dentistry in Kansas, but pops of bright colors or a mural wall couldn’t hurt. 😉 Another clever design element Tiny Teeth infused into their design, was to lower the height of one section of their reception counter so that children can easily peak over the top and feel like a welcome participant in the check-in process.
2. Create an Inviting Waiting Room
Children can be apprehensive when waiting for their name to be called. Make the waiting area feel more like home with a TV and video games, comfortable, appropriately-sized furniture, and cool artwork. The office above even installed a fish tank at child’s eye-level and stocked it with brightly colored, tropical fish. A well-designed waiting room experience can reduce patient anxiety, enhance perceptions about quality of care, distinguish your practice, and make the wait fly by.
3. Include a Toy Area
Having a separate “toy” or “fun” section for little kids can work wonders when it comes to entertainment and distractions. Think: brightly colored toys, a coloring station, board games, video games, animated wall paper, cartoons, you name it. In general, try to step out of the “boring office décor box” by including fun colors and textures, like the astroturf flooring element pictured above. Be sure and visit our site to stock this area with plenty of books, huggable teaching aids, and – of course – toys!
4. Master the Art of Distraction
Between sharp instruments and whirring tools, little patients can easily become anxious. If you notice the signs of nerves (clenching the seat, taking deep gulps, etc.), take a break from your work to strike up a conversation or offer a glass of water. Maybe you can ask them to imagine a pleasant place or experience, like a trip to the beach or a birthday party. Better yet, offer a set of headphones so they can listen to music. Even giving your patient a distracting task like counting ceiling tiles can work. Whatever takes their mind off their fears and anxiety, go for it! Virtual reality goggles can also help ease patient anxiety. Read more about how this exciting technology can benefit your practice HERE.
5. Choose Your Delivery Carefully
Switch to age-appropriate terminology with positive connotations. Use phrases like “clean,” “strong,” and “healthy,” and avoid “shot,” “hurt,” or “pain.” For example, instead of “giving shots” you might let them know that they’ll be getting a tiny alligator bite from Angie. You could also tell a child their lip will start to feel “fuzzy” or “tingly” after you use an anesthetic. By using these descriptive, less threatening words, you’ll make the visit fun and informative — not scary.
The way you look and sound while communicating with a child is just as important as what you say. Use a friendly and relaxed tone, and maintain eye contact. For much of the visit your fact will be covered in a mask, which makes it difficult to express a comforting smile. A playful mask can work wonders here, like these options featuring penguins and flamingos.
6. Let Parents Tag Along
Leaving the presence of a parent or guardian can frighten young children in any new situation. Look for tell-tale signs of separation anxiety. If a child is hesitant to let go of the parent’s hand, arm, or leg, allow the adult to tag along if it doesn’t interfere with your treatment. Children are more at ease when mom or dad are around, and having a relaxed patient will make it much easier for you to do your job. This can be particularly helpful for children who have never been to the dentist before.
7. Give Them Choices
When a child visits a playground for the first time, one of the best parts of the experience can be choosing what to play on first. Swing or slide? Rock climbing wall or monkey bars? Give children the opportunity to make choices when they enter your “playground,” and they’ll be more invested in/excited for the experience. This can be anything from what animal they’d like to deliver their prophy paste, to what flavor toothpaste they prefer, to the color of their protective eyeglasses, to which teeth-cleaning monster they’d like to take home.
8. Talk Throughout the Procedure
Alleviate a child’s fear of dental procedures by constantly explaining what you are currently doing and what you are going to do next. By telling your patients what is happening, they can anticipate the next sensation, instrument, or procedure with less anxiety. Feel free to engage the child in a discussion about pleasant topics unrelated to dentistry as well.
A child’s first trip to the dentist’s office has the potential to be frightening, but when you combine proper planning and positive reinforcement, you can replace your patients’ feelings of fear with fun. Make sure your youngest patients have good experiences, and you’ll help kick-start a lifetime of regular dental visits and healthy mouth habits!
Do you remember your first dental memory? What tips do you have for making your young patients feel at ease? Please share in the comments below!