Going to the dentist causes great anxiety—not only for many adult patients. Children also often show negative emotions and dentists should deal with them accordingly. However, there are significant differences in dealing with young anxiety patients, which is why some dentists specialize in pediatric dentistry. In this article, we will tell you how to become a pediatric dentist and how to deal with child patients.
What distinguishes pediatric dentists from normal dentists?
Pediatric dentists study dentistry and oral and maxillofacial medicine just like “normal” dentists. If you decide to specialize in pediatric dentistry after graduation, there are various continuing education opportunities. For example, it is possible to complete a 150-hour course on pediatrics and dentistry. Some universities also offer a dedicated Master’s program. Dentists can also qualify to work with children through continuing education and individual courses.
What is the difference between treating child and adult patients? In fact, there are many differences. To start with, pediatric dentists must be able to deal with children’s fears and emotions. They will need a lot of empathy and time. Treating children usually takes longer, so you should allow for some extra time. Unlike adult patients, children may refuse to open their mouths, run away, hide, or find other ways to escape treatment. Gaining trust, explaining, reassuring, and creating subtle distractions seem to be the magic formula. In addition, children have a different dentition. Milk teeth, for example, have thinner enamel and are therefore more sensitive and susceptible to caries.
How to treat children well
Pediatric dentists must be prepared for the challenges described above. Furthermore, problems are not limited to when the child sits in the dental chair. Often, children are afraid of the dentist because their parents are. Parents should try to be role models and not show their fear too obviously. When a fearful child enters the practice, first impressions count. A child-friendly design, cheerful pictures on the walls, and, of course, specially trained staff ensure a relaxed atmosphere. In the waiting room, toys help pass the time and create a distraction.
If an intervention is necessary, it should be as painless and stress-free as possible. Topical anesthetics are much more comfortable for little patients and can be an alternative to injections. It is critical to pay attention to the child’s emotions throughout the entire treatment and to take appropriate measures. For drilling, you might offer noise-canceling headphones, for example. If the child refuses treatment, you have to be a little more creative. Let the child rock his or her feet, allow the child to sit on the parent’s lap, or play “ride the elevator” on the dental chair.
Small rewards after the treatment, such as a toy box from which children can choose something, also have a positive effect. The child’s first visit should be reserved for a light examination and getting to know each other. If the child is already in pain and has to be treated at the very first visit, this can cause dental phobia later on in life (see article “Dealing with anxious patients in the dental practice”). However, if the first visit is a positive experience and not associated with pain, subsequent examinations will usually be unproblematic.
A summary of our tips for treating children:
- child-friendly design of the practice & equipment (toys in the waiting room)
- show empathy and address feelings
- take your time
- playful approach (create distraction)
- topical anesthetics instead of injections
- truthful information, child-friendly explanations
- first session without treatment in cases of great anxiety