How to keep kids happy in the dental chair

Treating pediatric dental patients can be a challenge. But with a few tricks up your sleeve, you can make these appointments much easier for everyone involved. Netflix, anyone?

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Ah, kids. On one hand, they’re some of your best patients, with dutiful moms bringing them in like clockwork every six months. On the other hand, pediatric patients aren't typically huge fans of the dentist if you tell them they have a couple sugar bugs that need to be drilled out.

No matter how many free toothbrushes you give them, they’re probably not going to be clapping their hands in glee over these types of appointments. Video games in the waiting room are cool and all, but it’s what happens beyond the door, in the op, that many of them dread. Your best bet is to distract them with a little razzmatazz, help them get in and out as quickly as humanly possible, and promise them a cool reward at the end.

In my practice over the years, I’ve discovered a few tricks that really do help.

First, that razzmatazz I was talking about—anything that filters out the sights and sounds of the operatory and takes kids’ minds off what’s happening is a winner. Cool sunglasses and headsets playing their favorite music can work well, for example. I personally use the Molar Media Mount to help kids forget they’re at the dentist. It’s an arm that attaches to your existing dental light to hold a tablet in your patient’s line of sight, no matter what procedure you’re doing. I let the kids pick something to watch on Netflix, pop a headset on them, and then watch them zone out while I do what I need to do.

Next, the key to getting in and out fast—the less the patient wiggles and asks for breaks, the more quickly you can work. Nitrous can be helpful. Another tool I use here is the Isolite. It’s super comfy; keeps your patient’s mouth open and illuminated; controls moisture and debris; protects the patient's tongue, cheeks, and throat; and cuts down your procedure time. Between the nitrous, my Isolite, and my Molar Media Mount, it’s almost like working on a typodont. I kid you not.

And finally, the reward—I’ve heard of dental offices that hand out freshly baked cookies or even milkshakes after appointments, which definitely ups their cool factor. At my office, we reward kids with our Treasure Tower. Instead of a chest where they might dig through germy toys for 15 minutes trying to decide, they get to pop a token into a toy vending machine and get an exciting prize in seconds. Win, win, win.

Most kids just aren’t going to be excited about going to the dentist. But if you can help the patient keep his or her mind off the procedure, get it done quickly, and provide a surprise at the end, it can make the experience a lot less painful for everyone involved.


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Casey Culberson, DDS, has been a general dentist in private practice since 2001. He was voted as one of the top 40 Under 40 Dentists by Incisal Edge magazine and is also the winner of an Edison Award for his invention, the Molar Media Mount. He graduated from the Washington University School of Dentistry in 2001. He is married and has two kiddos in high school.


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