Every day, dental assistants make real impacts on patients’ lives, making them feel relaxed, helping to improve their smiles, and boosting their confidence. It’s one of the top benefits of the career! For dental assistants who work with children, those impacts can be long-lasting. Early experiences in the dental office can help kids form strong oral hygiene habits for life, and dental assistants play a key role in that.
In honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month, here are some of the ways dental assistants can help their young patients establish a strong foundation in oral health.
Visiting a dental office is often new to children, and this uncertainty can make it scary. In some cases, they may have seen a dentist depicted in a frightening way on TV or heard myths about the dental office at school. They might also be afraid that their exam or procedure will be painful.
Dental assistants make a point to understand each child’s worries and comfort them, from using kid-friendly terminology to demonstrating what the procedure entails and how the staff will keep them safe. Sometimes, simply telling children that the dentist will make their teeth look pretty can calm them. Dental assistants also have various techniques to distract children who are nervous about a procedure, whether it’s playing music or giving them a stuffed animal.
“I like being the first person the child sees when being seated, before seeing the doctor,” explains Kelly. “I feel like it’s my duty to get the child comfortable before the procedure.”
When kids become comfortable in the dental office and see there’s nothing to be afraid of, they’re more eager to return for future appointments. These positive early experiences can create a lasting impression and make kids willing to visit the dentist in adulthood, too.
“One of my favorite moments was experiencing a fearful child on a first visit, and by the end of that visit, they were asking if they could come back the next day,” shares Tracy.
Kids are naturally inquisitive and ready to learn, which means the dental office can be fascinating to them. They may want to know how certain equipment works or what it’s used for. Or, they might have questions about why they need a particular treatment. Dental assistants can help fuel this curiosity by performing show and tell with the equipment and answering questions in terms that kids can understand.
Along the way, assistants can educate their pediatric patients on the importance of brushing and flossing and the proper techniques for each task. Many kids are visual learners, and this information can stick with them when dental assistants demonstrate it.
“It’s so rewarding to watch kids grow and have fun and educational dental experiences,” says Tracy.
One of the joys in being a dental assistant is forming bonds with patients. Because assistants are skilled at making kids comfortable in the dental office, this can create a lasting impression. Little ones might become attached to a certain dental assistant and look forward to seeing them every time they visit. Needless to say, it’s a heartwarming experience for any dental assistant!
“Having the kids knowing who I am, calling me by name and being happy to see me — it’s what I do it for,” adds Candy.
When the dental staff builds these bonds with children, it can have a lasting impact. Many pediatric patients grow up and continue to visit the same dental practice, entrusting the dental team to treat their own kids.
“I have been with my office for a long time and had the chance to watch young patients grow up and bring in their own children, allowing us to be part of their life,” explains Katja.
Want to learn more about working with children? Check out Managing Pediatric Dental Patients, a continuing education course offered by the DALE Foundation. The interactive course covers techniques for better communication and building rapport with pediatric patients and their guardians to ensure a smooth experience in the dental office for all.