Heather Siler

Heather Siler

In the US, parents are widely encouraged to bring their little ones in for their first dentist appointment within six months of the first tooth breaking through. With central incisors typically appearing anywhere from 6 - 12 months of age, closely followed by lateral incisors and first molars, children are usually very young the first time they meet their dentists. So how can we ensure our littlest patients feel comfortable?

The Rise of Dentophobia

Unfortunately, making young patients feel at ease in the chair isn’t always easy, and dentophobia — a fear of dentists — is on the rise. According to a report titled ‘Children’s Perceptions of Their Dentists’, published in the European Journal of Dentistry, around 11% of children surveyed said they don’t like dentist appointments, and an additional 12% claimed to be afraid. Overall, it appears that as much as 16% of the school age population have a fear of dentists, so what can we do to help them handle these necessary appointments better?

Below are 4 ways that dentists can help children feel comfortable at their first appointment:

1. Do a Practice Run

A popular method  used by specialist pediatric dentists is to keep a small doll, teddy, or action figure nearby to use as a ‘practice run’ model. Before asking a child to take a seat in the chair, get them settled with mom and dad (or whoever has brought them to the appointment) and place the doll in the chair. Explain to the child that you’re going to do a practice run with the doll so that they can better understand what will happen during their appointment. This can help to settle nerves and create calm.

2. Show, Don’t Tell

The European Journal of Dentistry report found that the appearance of some common dental tools and equipment, including dental burs, can enhance anxiety in young patients. This is because children can see them, but don’t understand what they do. Some children may even make up uses for the tools in their head, and we all know how logical children are. A dentist can become a torturer in seconds! In order to help children feel at ease, it’s a good idea to briefly go through the tools that you’ll use, showing kids how they are used (and letting them hear any sounds), rather than telling them. 

3. Be Professional

Did you know that your own appearance can make a big difference in how children feel during their appointment? Remarkably, 90% of the children surveyed in the European Journal of Dentistry study said they would prefer their dentist to wear a white coat; an item of clothing that children will have come to associate with helping and healing throughout pediatric doctor appointments. So, while it’s important to be friendly and welcoming to young patients, it’s also important to remain professional at all times. 

4. Give Mom & Dad Homework

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of a child’s first dentist appointment is making sure they don’t feel alone, and they know they have support in maintaining a happy, healthy mouth. A great tip to ensure that children know this is to give mom and dad (or their guardian) homework — a small guide on helping their child to brush their teeth that they should read up on back home. Getting adults involved is essential, and adult help and supervision when brushing should be in place until children are around 7.

Don’t Sweat It

The truth is that it’s not just dentists who are responsible for helping children feel comfortable at their appointments; a significant portion of the work lies with the parents, and it’s not always easy for moms and dads to settle these nerves in their little ones. If you find that you have a patient who isn’t quite comfortable, don’t sweat it. The most important thing at first appointments is simply getting children accustomed to visiting the dentist… thorough checks and treatments can come along a little later.

While many dentists and dental assistants love what they do and have a true passion for helping patients to care for their health and wellbeing, job satisfaction across the industry isn’t as high as it could be. 

Research by the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Health Policy Institute (HPI) found that, amongst those working in dentist owned and operated practices (DOO), only 69% were happy with their working hours, and just 55% were satisfied with their salary. At a time of change throughout ours and many other industries, it is understandable that many trained dentists would be interested in learning more about the different career pathways available to them, or about diversification activities that could help them to expand their practices. 

Introducing Aesthetics

One of the most rapidly emerging diversification activities for dentists is aesthetics, primarily due to the almost unprecedented growth of this alternative healthcare industry. In North America, the facial injectables market was worth a total of $2.1 billion in 2015, and is anticipated to rise to $5.8 billion by 2024. Among these minimally invasive procedures, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that Botox and dermal fillers are the two most widely requested procedures from American audiences. 

Botox? Really?

It’s not as crazy as it seems! As dentists are able to prescribe, are accustomed to working with patients on a day-to-day basis, have mastered their own injecting technique, and boast a comprehensive understanding of the maxillofacial and oral areas of the face, much of the necessary training in facial injectables has solid roots in core dental processes. Even dental hygienists and dental therapists with prescribing rights make excellent candidates due to their extensive training in intricacies of the face and mouth. 

Believe it or not, aesthetic medicine is becoming more heavily incorporated into many dental practices all across the country, and it’s actually pretty easy to see why. Not only are patients becoming more and more savvy and looking for professionals in whom they can fully place their trust to carry out their procedures, but aesthetics is one of the most lucrative areas of diversification for dentists. 

Of course, it’s not just about money. It’s about achieving greater levels of success as a dentist. Cosmetic dentistry procedures have long been used to improve patient satisfaction, and the use of facial fillers can have a significant effect on appearance and even the success rate of necessary dental treatments. 

Career Options for Dentists

Not all dentists will be interested in aesthetics, and that’s OK! We’ve used aesthetics as an example to really highlight the massive diversity in the range of careers that can be enjoyed with dental qualifications. Along with aesthetics and orthodontics, there are also plenty of non-clinical options to consider. The ADA actually reports that clinic ownership in the United States is declining, with an increasing number of trained professionals moving into training and teaching roles, research and technician jobs, and the dental products industry. There’s more to being a dentist than being a dentist!

What Woodworking has Taught me About Dental Instruments

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As is typical for many independent minded dentist types, I completely ignored his advice and decided to try my hand at making custom pens. It has become a wonderful hobby for me and I love the opportunity to clear my mind as I work on beautiful woods, acrylics, and even Corian (yes the same material they use to make kitchen counters).

Working with these materials has taught me a few things about using tools on a rapidly rotating object (which ironically is exactly opposite of what we do in dentistry).

1) The tool must be very sharp in order to be effective.
2) A clean tool is a more efficient tool.
3) Too much heat can ruin the object.
4) Proper protection is essential.
5) Sometimes, it costs less to pay more for something.
6) If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re liable to end up somewhere else!