A successful practice makes the dental experience fun for children of all ages and abilities.
Pediatric dentists are like the ringmasters of the dental practice. This is because it takes extensive training, patience, and sometimes even a trick or two to safely and gently treat younger patients. While pediatric dentists treat babies, children, and teens, many specialists also have a plethora of special needs patients in their practice.
The prevalence of special needs children appears to be growing each year with earlier diagnoses and a focus on early intervention. This increasing trend indicates that pediatric dentists need additional clinical training and education to provide high quality care to their patients and families. There are some key tools that all pediatric dentists should possess to have a growing, successful practice and to make the dental experience fun for children of all ages and abilities.
1. Comfortable Environment
We can all admit that most people avoid the dentist because of the fear of pain and the unknown. Who wants to enter a sterile-smelling environment with anxiety and discomfort in their mouth? Provide a relaxing, comfortable office setting to show your patients (and their parents) that this is a safe space. Some practice owners choose a child friendly theme or invest in high-end animal decor descending from the ceiling. It really doesn’t have to be a high budget cost to make your patients feel welcomed and calm. Have children’s books or iPads available. A small dental model makes kids curious and it gives the appearance of a toy. The goal is to make your patients and families feel like they are in experienced, good hands.
2. Caring and Dedicated Team
Your dental team is one of your key tools to help patients feel at ease. While you may be doing dental exams, speaking with a parent, or doing restorative work, your dental team will spend the most time with your patients and families. It is essential to have a staff that is kind, respectful, and supportive of your patients. Young patients are often nervous at the dentist. Many times it is your hygienists, assistants, and administrative staff that help guide your families through the dental process. If you have a team that is dedicated to your practice, it will clearly show and your patients will recognize this.
3. Specialized Training
Pediatric dentists receive additional training after dental school to recognize, diagnose and treat young patients. Many dental practices take pride in being able to treat special needs patients as well. Dentists receive advanced training in treating children and young adults with sensory processing disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). People with sensory processing disorders may need special treatment like a quiet environment, less stimulation, or a weighted blanket for comfort. There are many advanced dental materials and technologies that help a pediatric dentist safely treat special needs patients.
It is also well known that many children suffer from sleep disorders, which can have a major impact on their overall health and dental health. Being able to recognize the early signs of a sleep disorder and intervene with orthodontics can positively affect your patient’s quality of life. Many times parents will not receive the proper diagnosis for a sleep disorder from a pediatrician, not because they don’t care, but because they don’t have the proper training to recognize the signs. Pediatric dentists are trained to focus beyond teeth and look at how the oral cavity affects the entire body. Patients who chronically grind their teeth or snore can benefit from treatment to help them sleep better.
As pediatric dentists, we have a responsibility to teach patients from a young age the value and benefit of their oral health. Dental visits, which occur twice a year, sometimes more, can be an opportunity to educate parents and children on the importance of oral care. Pediatric dentists often see patients more frequently than any other healthcare provider. Some of the important issues to teach your families include the following:
- Proper care of baby and adult teeth
- Eruption sequence and how it can affect orthodontics
- How diet and good nutrition affect your overall health and teeth
- How to handle dental emergencies and trauma
- Why it is important to address smaller dental issues earlier to avoid long-term problems
- Demonstrate the best oral health for patients with special needs
- The way oral habits can affect speech and eating
5. Preventative Focus
The primary goal of every pediatric dental practice should be to focus on preventative care. Earlier care means the avoidance of long-term dental issues and developing good oral care habits for a lifetime. Some of the best preventive treatments you can offer your patients include the following:
- Routine dental exams and cleanings
- Fluoride treatments
- Sealant application
- Nightguard and athletic mouth guards
- Early intervention for space maintenance
- Oral health education