What You Should Know as Kids Return to School and Your Dental Office

Dentists and dental teams need to be aware of a variety of emotions that children (and their parents) are experiencing after a pandemic as they make their way back into practices this school year.

In many parts of the country, school is either back in session or nearing its return. After a school year unlike any we have ever seen last year, students are going back to class in a routine that has different degrees of normalcy depending on where you live.

While students are getting back into the routine of returning to classes, they’re also likely getting back into the routine of scheduling their dental appointments around school time as well.

Last year, both school and dental routines were altered by COVID-19, and many students found themselves at home with their parents more than ever before. The change in routines last year has, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, elevated anxiety, depression, grief, loss, and other highly charged emotions in children.

These are emotions that dentists and dental teams need to be aware of as children (and their parents) make their way back into practices this school year.

So how can dental practices prepare for pediatric appointments where the parent might be wanting to exude more oversight than ever before? Hema Patel, DDS, an executive coach with Fortune Management in California, offers the following advice.

“The ground rules need to be clear if the parent insists on accompanying the child to the treatment room,” Dr Patel says. “The parents need to understand that they should trust the dentist and should stay calm and avoid talking to the child. Their child is in a safe space, and that needs to be emphasized to the parents. If the parents constantly talk to the child, even if they think they are helping the child cooperate, it can send confusing message to him or her.”

Dr Patel believes that, with the impact of COVID-19, dental teams need to understand the temperament of their pediatric patients and their parents more than ever before. She advises dentists and team members to be prepared with their messaging and ensure the treatment room is a place of calm rather than chaos.

“Fearful parents should stay out of the treatment room,” Dr Patel says. “The dentist needs to be able to focus and give his or her full attention to the child. The only person the child needs to be listening to is the dentist.”

As your business heads into the heart of the school year, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind that can help even before your pediatric patient walks into the practice.

First, how are you preparing the parent and child for the visit? Perhaps an automated email or text message with a link to a section on your website that would help the parent understand expectations of what the visit will entail and how he or she can prepare his or her child for communicating with the dentist and team.

“I usually tell parents to talk about all the rules (parents may not be in the room with them, listening to the dentist, etc.) to the child before coming to the dental appointment,” Dr Patel says. “This way, the child is prepared and not shocked when we say a parent can’t be in the back with him or her.”

Also, in that email or text, you may also prepare the parent and child for any new faces if you’ve had hygienist or assistant turnover. Link to the page on your website highlighting team members, including your new additions.

Second, for younger patients, depending on your practice’s comfort level with items being touched, prepare the patient that the toy chest experience may be different than in visits past. There may be a different way of rewarding the patient for a visit well done than digging through a mound of toys as has been the case previously.

Third, work with your team to envision what “the perfect pediatric appointment” looks like.

Some of the questions that can form the “perfect” appointment may include the following: Are parents allowed in the back? What communication will you give to parents who may not agree with your protocols for their child’s visit and their presence in the operatory? Are certain team members better at working with children than others? Do you have patient education tools and talking points to help younger patients understand, for example, cavities and how they will be fixed?

As with anything else, making preparations ahead of time can greatly increase the chance for success. In a time when emotions can be running high and routines are anything but routine, planning ahead is perhaps more important now than ever.