I learned a lot of new things today when I took Sam to her first pediatric dentist visit here in Chapel Hill.
First of all, I’d have to say my perception of dentists growing up was not the best. It may have come from my own very first visit (at least the one I can remember) to my grandmother’s trusted veteran dentist (he was pretty much her age – go figure). The room was dark, the chair was big and the tools looked scary. Worst of all there were whizzing and drilling sounds coming from the other cubicles, which can make any child’s imagination run wild. I guess it didn’t help either that back then, the “young once” would use scare tactics to keep your oral hygiene in check.
Haunted by these memories, I waited until the very last instance that I possibly could to take Sam on her first visit (Our pediatrician had to tell me on our 2nd year check-up, “it’s about time you went.”). As it turns out, it wasn’t half as horrifying as I’d anticipated.
Learning #1: Pediatric Dentists exist! That’s something I never really knew; to me a dentist is a dentist is a dentist. Apparently there are a pedia-dentists in Manila too (I thought it was only here in the states), and for some reason it is not common knowledge. In fact I think a lot of my mommy friends take their children to their personal dentists. Which brings me to my next point…
Learning #2: Pediatric Dentists are not a common topic amongst moms. Strangely enough I feel that with the many discussions I’ve had with my contemporary mommies, the topic never came up. That baffles me since we normally talk about everything and anything when it comes to our kids. Is it because we think there is no difference between our dentist and one for infants and toddlers? But… (next point)
Learning #3: There is a difference. The experience alone says it all. So we went to the Chapel Hill Southern Village Pediatric Dentristy, and their office had a waiting room filled with toys and a tree with colorful things hanging from it (Their office website pictures don’t do it justice — I must make a mental note to bring the camera next time). Then they took us to a private room, which was filled more with toys and books than dental instruments. It looked like a playroom with toothbrushes and a computer, instead of a dentist’s office with toys. It was the friendliest set-up I’ve seen. You couldn’t hear what was happening in the other rooms too, so it wasn’t scary in the slightest.
There wasn’t even a dentist’s chair. When it was time to brush Sam’s teeth, the office assistant made me sit on one ottoman while she sat opposite me on the other, and she put this nicely soft smaller version of a changing mat on our laps. We were suddenly a makeshift dental chair for people 3ft and below (I wish I had a picture!). Sam didn’t complain — in fact she willingly opened her mouth to get it brushed, and then flossed. Apparently, we must floss toddler teeth at least once a day (did you know that?).
Then the dentist came in to count her teeth, check for cavities and put a fluoride coating with what looked like a paintbrush. They constantly engaged her in what they’re doing in an effort to keep her calm. Sam cried more because her playtime was disrupted, than from anything they did to her. After, we were declared cavity-free, and Sam received her toothbrush, toothpaste, a sticker, and a rubber toy fish. She also got her name on a leaf — which she hung on the office cavity-free tree as we walked out.
I think I only started to have a good experience with my dentist in 2005. I was 28, and I never took home a rubber toy fish.
Learning #4: Positive associations last. I was told that a pediatric dentist in Manila said it’s okay for a child to scream after being pinned down on a first visit. According to my source, her daughter was traumatized by the experience. Of course it’s not okay! There is something in that little brain of theirs that will re-trigger the memory or the feeling, and then you are screwed for life. I think that’s what happened to me. Conversely, Sam said to me as we paid the bill, “did you have fun at the dentist Mommy?”, which by her sentence structuring standards, meant it was a pleasant experience after all.
I realize that here, the doctors, dentists and nurses make such a conscious effort to ensure the children aren’t anxious or scared from their visits, no matter what procedure is done. It is light and fun and easy and not just a routine on another client. They treat the kids like little people (as it should be!), and don’t just talk above their heads to their parents, which is how I feel a lot of the practicioners back home do it.
There is a lot to be learned from a pediatric dental visit, even for mommies like me. Well, there’s always a first time for everything.