The Affordable Care Act has brought with it an influx of new patients under the age of 18 into dental offices. Your practice might be thinking of adding more children into your schedule, which I think is a fantastic idea. Your general practice may currently cater specifically to adults.
1. The waiting area
Adding a few simple elements into the waiting area can ease any nervousness children may feel. Distraction is the best option in this case. A few books and magazines geared for children can distract them and help them pass the time. Good magazine options are “Highlights Hello,” “National Geographic Little Kids,” “ChopChop Magazine,” and “Muse.”
An activity table or fun mirror can also distract tiny patients. There are hundreds of styles of activity tables, so any worry about it not matching your waiting area decor can be put to rest.
2.Making the introductions
Instruct your staff members to introduce themselves by name to the parent first and the child second. This establishes a level of trust with young patients. The child will see that dad or mom trusts the staff members, and that the staff members care enough to introduce themselves directly. Always try to kneel down while introducing yourself to the child. The goal is to be welcoming and non-threatening. Towering over children while making introductions can make them feel scared and threatened.
3.Asking vs. telling
As a general rule, you should not ask a child to do basic tasks. If you ask a child something like, “Do you want to have a seat in this chair?” nine times out of 10 they will say no. Rephrase it into something like, “Please have a seat in this chair. Thank you!” You will get better results with a polite command. Remember to speak to children in a respectful manner, not like a baby.
4. Explain, explain, explain
Always explain what you are going to do. Just like with adults, you should tell a child about the game plan. The only difference is that a child may not understand certain phrases. Refer to X-rays as “pictures.” Try calling the lead apron a “heavy jacket.” Be creative and have fun with it. Kids also have a sense of humor!
Ask about the children’s interests, school, and favorite things. Kids have opinions and strong preferences just like adults. Asking them questions serves two purposes. The first is that the children will know you care about their opinions and interests, and the second is that you can inform the dentist about these interests. The dentist can build a strong trust quickly if he or she asks young patients about their interests right away. A general rule is to tell the dentist about two things the patient likes and what grade the child is in.
6. A prize box
As simple as it sounds, this is a big step. If you place a toy box in a visible central location, children will be able to keep the “prize in mind” throughout their appointment. If need be, you can always gently remind a child about the toy they will receive after their appointment.
Following these simple steps can make appointments with young patients go smoothly. Remember to have fun and keep appointments light spirited. When children think the dental office is a fun place, they are less inclined to have a dental phobia when they become adults.
Ashley Pero is a dental assistant who lives in Portland, OR. She has most recently been working for Dental Care Today. She enjoys reading, writing, and learning about new things in dentistry.