Tips for parents
Point of no return
Michelle Strange [Ad 00:00:00 – 00:00:39]
And Andrew Johnston:
A Tale of Two Hygienists presents this week’s TIPisode: Quick and easy tips to keep you up to date and presented by the experts in the profession. Now, get ready for your unofficial TIPisode.
Sarah Lawrence: Hey, everyone. This is Sarah Lawrence, and today I wanted to take a few minutes to go over some tips for when you are seeing pediatric patients in your office.
As far as my background, I’ve been a hygienist for several years now, and the last seven years in my career were spent working as a hygienist and myofunctional therapist at a pediatric office. Prior to that, I really just didn’t have much experience working with children except for maybe seeing a few kids here and there, but not enough experience that I really felt super comfortable. As a matter of fact, every day for the first probably two to three weeks at the pediatric office, I went home and I cried because I was overwhelmed, I was confused, and I really didn’t know what to do. But, thankfully, I didn’t give up, and I was able to learn a ton over these last seven years.
The topic I want to go over today is new patient appointments. I’m pretty active on social media, and I’m in several groups where I see hygienists asking, “Hey, I have a new patient coming in for their first dental visit. That patient may be one, two, or three years old, and I really don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. Can you guys give me some tips?” So my goal is to be able to go over a few things that I have learned to make this first appointment fun and comfortable for you, the hygienist, and also the parent and the child.
So my first tip is to prepare the parent and offer reassurance throughout the appointment. This part of the appointment often gets overlooked because we’re usually worried about things like are we going to have enough time to get everything done, what if my patient won’t sit in the chair, what if my patient cries the whole time, and things like that. But I like to start the appointment off by just sitting next to the parent with the child in their lap and just give them a general idea of how this first appointment is going to go and what they can expect.
So it might sound something basic like, “First, we’re going to go over medical history. Second, we’re going to do this and then this, and then we’re going to be all done.” Just give them an overview of how it’s going to work because, in all honesty, parents are usually just as stressed about this first visit as the child is. Parents just want to be reassured that the apprehension, the short attentions span, are all normal behaviors. So just take some time to offer that reassurance and let them know that their child’s behavior is absolutely developmentally appropriate, and we actually expect this type of behavior.
Also just let them know each visit does get easier as their child starts to trust us and they start to learn more about the process of just coming to the office. And, once you tell parents these things, you can just see the relief on their face because they really didn’t know what to expect either.
The second tip is to encourage open communication with the parent during this visit. Set this up from the very beginning. Let them know that you’re absolutely open to any helpful tips that they can give you on what their child likes or dislikes, maybe some favorite Disney characters that might be fun to find in their mouth as you’re counting teeth, and things like that. For example, I remember having one parent request that I not use the term “sugar bugs” because their child was terrified of bugs, and it probably wouldn’t go very well. Things like that are helpful before you get started with the appointment. And, by doing this, the parent realizes that they have some sort of control in the appointment and that you really are trying your best to accommodate their needs and their wants and trying to provide a good experience for their child.
Now, let’s talk about parenting styles. As we know, there are several types of parenting styles, and it’s helpful to know what type of style you’re dealing with from the very beginning of the appointment. As much as we have to individualize the clinical treatment for the patient, we also need to individualize our communication with the parents. So some parents don’t want their child to cry, some parents want you to do whatever that you need to do to get the job done, and then of course there are parents that lie somewhere in the middle.
Gently reminding the parent that what you’re going to be doing during the visit — whether it’s brushing with the manual toothbrush, polishing with the prophy angle, or whatever it may be — is not going to cause any physical pain to the child even though they might be crying. And remind the parent that the child will likely be slightly vocal, might have some hesitation, but if at any time they would like you to stop, let them know they are welcome to let you know, and you guys can all take a break.
When you say that, the parent will usually answer with something like, “No. We’re here to get the appointment done. Do whatever you need to do. I already know they’re going to cry.” Or something like that. But their response to that statement will give a good idea of what the expectations are for the appointment so they don’t leave disappointed. This will obviously depend on your individual office and how they would like you to handle these appointments, but at the office I worked at, we really valued creating positive relationships with patients even if that meant that maybe we didn’t apply the fluoride varnish to their teeth and maybe they returned at a later time to finish up the appointment.
So this leads me to my final tip, and that tip is to be very mindful of getting to the point of no return with your patient. So it can be very easy for some parents to want to push their child to continue with the appointment even though you might know as a clinician that going any further might make the child suffer from some trauma from the visit. There have been several times that I have had to remind parents that there is always next time, and unless their child is suffering from a dental emergency, the fluoride varnish or polishing with the prophy angle can wait until the next visit.
You can tell when the child is not going to be able to do what you’ve asked them to do. You might have that child that you’ve been working with for like ten minutes trying to get them to just open their mouth to take xrays, and you’ve tried every trick in the book, and they’re still not budging. But you might have that parent standing next to you pushing you to go ahead and take them anyway. The child is crying hysterically in the chair, and you know it’s not going to be a good experience for them. Feel free to let the parent know that it’s your professional opinion that pushing the child to take those xrays in the absence of a dental emergency might not be a good idea or contribute to a positive dental experience.
Don’t forget, you are the expert with this topic, and letting them know this might make the parent feel better about it by taking the weight off of them because maybe they expect their child to be able to do these things. And so just vocalizing that and letting them know that there’s always next time and that you feel that by going any further you’re going to be going into an area where maybe you won’t be able to recover from.
I realize this may not be a very popular opinion, but it’s something that I personally feel very strongly about because if we are serious about creating relationships on a foundation of trust for our pediatric patients, we cannot get to a point where they are traumatized and won’t sit in the chair or even come to the office or walk through our doors next time they come in.
So, in conclusion, when you’re creative, when you remain positive with the child, you work quickly, most appointments go really well. Just remember not to expect too much from yourself and too much from the child, and just have fun with your pediatric patients.
I hope these tips have been helpful and that you’re able to incorporate them during your next pediatric appointment. Thank you so much for listening.
Michelle Strange: We hope you enjoyed this week’s TIPisode. Be sure to reach out to our guest experts and let them know how helpful their tips were. Follow A Tale of Two Hygienists on Facebook, Instagram, and head over to ataleoftwohygienists.com and subscribe to our newsletter. You can also email us at email@example.com, and keep listening for more awesome content from your unofficial dental hygiene podcast.