For most kids, going to the dentist is not on their list of favorite things. However, successful practices have learned how to make pediatric dental visits memorable and something kids look forward to.
Every dentist strives to strike a balance between excellent care and a good experience. At the core of your mission is a need to improve oral health, and sometimes that can be uncomfortable or even frightening for your patients. So, it’s your job (and that of your other team members) to try and make it all less intimidating.
This is especially true when it comes to pediatric dental visits. Obviously, when they are calm, you are better able to do great dentistry. But it goes beyond that. For most people, the dentist is one of the first regular exposures to undergoing medical care. If you can manage to not only put children at ease in your practice, but maybe even make their visits something they look forward to, you’ll be doing them an extra solid: You’ll be making their outlook on medical care a positive one from the start.
The question, of course, is how can you do this? Well, we sat down with someone who is arguably the ultimate expert on the topic: Dr. Mary Pham of Lollipop Dental Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics. Based in Southern California, the practice is known for its unmatched ability to connect with the youngest of patients, turning them into a veritable fan base.
#1 Use Environment to Immediately Adjust Their Expectations
One of the first things Dr. Pham advises is to be aware of what your pediatric patients are thinking when they walk through the door. What experiences have influenced their opinion of the dentist already?
As she points out, there are tons of iPad games where children go about cleaning a cartoon person’s teeth “at the dentist.” And these applications don’t exactly make it seem like a good time. The characters are often depicted crying dramatically when care is being done by the app user. Of course, in the moment, the children think this is quite funny, but the point is this: There is a lot of subliminal messaging telling our little ones to be afraid of the dentist.
So, as a dentist, it is your job to help them adjust those expectations and exceed the best expectations they could have. And that starts with the environment!
“We try to make it fun and inviting,” Dr. Pham explains. “It should feel like a place you would welcome children into. Think of an elementary school classroom. It isn’t set up the way the spaces for college freshmen would be. It is set up to be intentionally appropriate for the age of the children, which enables us to engage them.”
She and her team do the same. It is a colorful place from the moment you walk in, with balloons, a toy machine, iPads, lollipops on the front desk and smiling faces. The goal: to make those kids think of the dentist almost as they would an arcade. “When they drive by, we want them to ask their parents if they can go to Lollipop Dental,” Dr. Pham says.
#2 Obsess Over Customer Service in Pediatric Dental Visits
While this is always key to a successful dental practice, it means even more when you are working with a lot of young patients in pediatric dental visits. Dr. Pham’s mantra? “When they come in, make sure you are treating them like family!” Here are a few quick specifics on how you might go about that:
- Avoid making any interaction feel too clinical.
- Make an effort to exude warmth by smiling and projecting an open and friendly attitude.
- Celebrate! Dr. Pham and team always make a big deal out of the things that are important to their littlest patients. If a child comes in on their birthday, they’ll get a special crown to wear and take home, as well as a “Today is My Birthday!” sticker and a little present. It doesn’t have to be anything large or expensive. At Lollipop Dental, it’s simply a more eye-catching toothbrush than the one they would normally get—and it’s wrapped in a ton of packaging; everyone likes unwrapping a present.
- Take the special touches to their home, too. If you want to really go above and beyond in the customer service department, consider choosing a family or two each month to send a small gesture of gratitude to. At Lollipop Dental, this often looks like a delivery of mini cupcakes or an edible arrangement … talk about building a great relationship with your patients! Kids and parents alike appreciate a yummy gift on their doorstep.
So, all in all, it’s about narrowing in on customer service, and a part of that is really understanding who your customer is—the parents, yes, but also the kids!
#3 Cater Communication to Little Ones
According to Dr. Pham, the art of masking what you might call “trigger words” is maybe the biggest trick up her white coat sleeve.
We’re talking shots, folks. For many children, a big part of the fear of doctors and dentists stems from the belief that they will receive a shot when they get there. And of course, if you need to numb them to fill a cavity, they certainly might. But Dr. Pham’s advice is to never, ever say so during pediatric dental visits! “If they ask me outright, I always move past it really fast,” she says, a laugh in her voice. “The quicker you say it, the more they believe you. ‘Shot’ is not a part of our vocabulary.”
She also gives advice to the parents. During a cleaning or consult, if a cavity is identified, she will have a private conversation with mom or dad. She then requests that if the little one asks if they will have to get a shot or any other question that might hold an answer that distresses them, the parent should remind them how much fun they had at Lollipop Dental last time and say that Dr. Pham will answer any questions they have when they get there. That way, she can work her magic, which includes other thoughtful approaches to communication, too.
If a numbing gel has to be used or a water jet sprayed, it’s a tickle. If they have to pull a tooth, it’s a hug.
#4 Send Them Home with Goodies
Upon being asked if she sends her patients from pediatric dental visits home with anything fun, Dr. Pham tells a story that actually also inspired the name of her practice:
“I used to give the children a goodie bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss. They would take one look and say ‘Where is my candy and toy?’ To them, a goodie bag is like what you get at a birthday party. So, I went to the store and bought some xylitol lollipops and started including them.”
Of course, this also became another opportunity to educate, opening the door to explain why some treats are less damaging to your teeth than others. Parents learn that xylitol “creates fewer sugar bugs” and the kids go home happy. Win win!
#5 Engage with the Parents at Pediatric Dental Visits, Too
Of course, the patient is the child and you want to make their visit great. But making pediatric visits pleasant for the parents is key too. After all, they are the ones actually caring for the teeth!
With this in mind, Lollipop Dental has a No Cavity Club. When a child is free of cavities, they get an award and have their picture taken, but the parents are also celebrated. They get a “you’re doing a great job caring for your child’s teeth” pat on the back.
“We always say, tell your [mom or dad] thank you for keeping your teeth so clean!”
It’s an overwhelmingly positive way to close out a pediatric dental visit, and that is the notion behind each of these five tips: Make the experience positive.
Let’s recap on the five ways you can do that:
- Create an environment that feels safe and fun.
- Go above and beyond when it comes to customer service.
- Think carefully about how you communicate.
- Give gifties.
- Become mom and dad’s favorite dentist, too.
Combine each of those excellent tips, and we think you’ll be noticing a change in how your youngest patients view their time with you. And that makes doing your job not only easier, but more enjoyable for you as well.
“It’s all about exceeding expectations,” says Dr. Pham. “We can do what we do best and provide a five-star experience.”
Thank you to Dr. Pham for these fantastic ideas! And of course, don’t forget to visit Lollipop Dental the next time you’re in SoCal.