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Ethel Hagans is a dental hygienist first, and then, the author of the book Extraordinary Dental Care. She is obsessed with motivating hygienists to raising their level of care, in order to woo their patients into patterns of great oral hygiene. Her motto: “In the end our main goal is to make sure their teeth outlast them!”
Letting children speak for themselves at dental appointments can help hygienists glean valuable information.
When you see kids in your office, you should always recommend that their parents stay in the waiting room, and welcome parents back only during the exam. This is to help build rapport with the patient and ensure they are focused completely on what you’re saying, because unfortunately, parents can oftentimes be a distraction.
In doing so you’re also able to glean key information from the patient, and unlike adults, kids are always honest. Kids are great and allow you to spread your dental knowledge wherever you may be, in what I like to call, teachable moments.
One teachable moment I recall is when I was waiting for a doctor’s appointment and I saw this cute little boy, about six years old. He was getting impatient while waiting with his grandmother for her appointment, asked the receptionist if she had any candy, like they did at the bank. She smiled and told him, “Unfortunately, no.” My hygiene instincts immediately kicked in, and since I was close to the front desk, I told the little boy I worked at the dentist and that too much candy was bad for him. Then in normal fashion, I asked if he brushed his teeth every night.
He exclaimed, in an innocent little voice, “Yes, but I don’t always take a bath every night.” A silence immediately swept the entire reception area, followed by a stream of laughter. A look of shock appeared across the grandmother’s face, as she hung her head in shame, totally embarrassed by what she had just heard. The little boy had a mind of sweet innocence. After the amusement had all died down, I told him it was okay, and that a little dirt wouldn’t hurt him, but his teeth had to outlast him. He then said, yeah, because he liked to eat chicken a lot. The nurse called his grandmother back, and I told him to have a great day and continue to brush his teeth every night. He said, “OK and bye-bye.”
Another moment I’ll never forget was when a boy, to my dismay, vomited right after receiving a fluoride tray. He was about 10 and his oral health was fair to poor. Once his mother came back, I explained to her the tips she could use to improve his oral health, like getting him a two-minute timer. Then out of nowhere he threw up this brown liquid. My face turned pale, as I sat there stunned.
My mind started racing as to what had made him sick. It couldn’t have been the fluoride, it was a white foam. I asked his mother what he had for breakfast, and he interrupted and said, “Chocolate cake!” I almost fainted. I told his mother he already had four cavities and required sealants, and that more sugar, especially for breakfast was the last thing he needed. The first thing I needed though, was more time to teach him proper brushing and flossing techniques, and discuss his diet, so his mother agreed to a follow up.
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Being out of school during the summer, there are a large number of kids who are coming to the office for the first time. One in particular, was a cute, redheaded girl with freckles. She told me she was six years old and going to the first grade. This was her first dental visit and she was just so happy. Her mom insisted that she also come into the operatory with her daughter, so she stood by the door since we had no additional chairs in the room. As I begin to ask her daughter questions, the girl’s mother began to fire off answers well before her daughter could reply. So I quickly said to her, “I need for you to let your daughter answer the questions first,” and that we couldn’t improve her oral hygiene habits if she herself didn’t understand what she was doing wrong. The mom promised to stand by and remain quiet.
Lo and behold after discovering that the little girl only brushed her front teeth, her molars were covered in heavy plaque, she explained the reason why was because her toothbrush was too big. My eyes soon met the mother, where she stood speechless. I recommended her daughter get a smaller toothbrush, and I also took the time to teach her how to properly use it, and to be sure to brush those back teeth. She did great, and afterwards both her and her mom where happy.
I asked her if her teeth feel clean, and told her to bring them back like I left them. She loudly yelled, “Yes!” Her mom also promised to spend more time in the bathroom watching her, to make sure she followed my instructions. Before they left, the little girl gave me a big hug, and I told her, “I’ll see you back in six months, Cinderella, because your teeth are as pretty as hers.” As if it wasn’t bright enough already, she gave me the biggest smile, joyful tears in her eyes, and thanked me.
Children can teach you so much if given the chance to speak out for themselves. Not only do they bring humor and joy, but also honesty to each and every appointment. And to me there are few, warmer feelings, than preparing them for the future, by instructing them in how to make sure their teeth outlast them. The cute smiles are well worth it too.