According to the World Health Organization, 20 to 90 percent of European 6-year-olds have dental caries. In England from 2013 to 2014, dental caries was the most common reason for hospitalization for children ages 5 to 9 years old, according to statistics from Public Health England. So, how can you take a chunk out of these staggering figures?
Caring for pediatric patients can be challenging for any dentist, but it's crucial for preventing disease and for setting your patients up for a lifelong understanding of the importance of oral care. Working within a referral service for children has taught me some tricks in managing my littlest patients. Here are my top tips to make your next half-pint appointment not only effective, but fun!
Get children registered with your practice as soon as their first teeth erupt. Promote dental checkups by the age of 1 year, and encourage your patients who are pregnant to later bring their baby for a dental exam as soon as the first tooth has erupted. Even the parents of older children should stay involved. Ask parents and caregivers to help with or supervise tooth brushing until their children are at least 8 years old.
Don't rush appointments. Explain things in child-friendly ways to your patients, such as introducing your suction tool as a "vacuum." A good method is tell, show and do: tell a child what you want to do, show them how it will work and then do it. For example, explaining how prophylactic paste is like "super toothpaste" and tickling a fingernail with your prophy brush can help prepare a child for a cleaning.
Visuals are often helpful for young children, so give patients tooth brushing charts or recommend tooth brushing apps to motivate oral care at home. Recommend a kid-sized toothbrush suitable for their age, along with a pediatric toothpaste.
Ask your pediatric patients (or in the case of younger patients, their parents/caregiver) to bring their toothbrush to appointments so that you can demonstrate an effective tooth brushing technique. You could also use disclosing tablets or solution so children and their parents can easily see any spots they missed while brushing.
Encourage parents to bring children regularly for their checkups so they become accustomed to the dental environment. Shorter, more frequent appointments often work best for children so they do not become bored or tired. A choice from a basket of small toys, stickers or certificates makes a great reward for improved oral hygiene or good behavior in your chair.
Hopefully some of these tips can help you look forward to caring for pediatric patients. If you stay patient and positive, you can help them on their way to a lifetime of good oral health.