Four-year-old Ian was resting on a dentist’s chair, and it was not just his mouth that was wide open as he got his teeth cleaned. His eyes, too, were wide open as he watched his favourite episode of Thomas the Train on a widescreen TV on the ceiling.
At the new paediatric specialist unit of Thomson Specialist Dentistry, the little ones are entertained by books, toys and children’s TV programmes, both before and during their dental treatment.
A GENTLE TOUCH
“The main difference between working with children and adults as a dentist is that you need to get children to relax and distract them long enough for you to examine them,” said resident dentist Dr Toh Siew Luan, who has been working with children for more than 10 years now.
For Dr Toh, patience is key.
“When the children are nervous, I will chat with them and explain what to expect, and then ask them to get on the chair when they’re ready,” she said. “Or sit them down with mummy or daddy to calm them. Sometimes it’s the parent who needs to be relaxed! Children often take their cue from their parents, so they won’t relax until their mummy or daddy does.”
“The little ones are entertained by books, toys and children’s TV programmes, both before and during their dental treatment”
For anxious children with serious dental problems that require immediate treatment such as a root canal, treatment may be carried out under general anaesthesia if necessary.
To Ian’s mother, Mdm Deneuve Tan, 34, it was a relief that her children’s first visit to the dentist was a pleasant one.
“It was difficult to get Ian to brush his teeth, and before this, he had never met a dentist. When he was three, I noticed signs of decay in his front teeth, and he had bad breath. So we decided to take him to a paediatric dentist before he loses his teeth.”
Mdm Tan also brought her 16-month-old daughter Sophie along for a checkup, as her first few teeth had just erupted. “We thought it would be good to get her comfortable with a dentist now, and to start a dental regimen early,” explained Mdm Tan.
Dr Toh managed to keep Ian in the chair long enough to check and clean his teeth, and showed him how to brush it the correct way. As for Sophie, Dr Toh had to work quickly to check her teeth while Mdm Tan held her in her lap.
The visit went well. Ian got his teeth fixed and Sophie received a clean bill of health for her teeth, and both went home with a little gift courtesy of Dr Toh – an instant photo of themselves as a proud souvenir of their visit to the dentist.
DENTAL HEALTH STARTS YOUNG
“Many people have the misconception that baby teeth do not matter since they will be replaced by adult teeth anyway,” said Dr Toh. “That is not true. A decayed baby tooth does not drop out early by itself. If the decay reaches the nerves within, it will still cause intense pain, and extraction will be necessary for serious cases.”
She cited a local 2006 survey of more than 1,700 preschoolers, which revealed that tooth decay affects a staggering 40 per cent of preschoolers. “Most cases go untreated, and it is often too late by the time children see the dentist when they go to primary school.”
It is therefore important for children to visit the dentist within six months of the eruption of their first tooth or by their first birthday.
“The pain and swelling associated with tooth decay are often obvious only in the advanced stages,” said Dr Toh. Since many young children are unable to express themselves, it is necessary to get their teeth checked and problems fixed at an early stage.”
Any gaps formed as a result of baby teeth lost could lead to uneven growth, which might require the use of braces later in life.
One trend that Dr Toh has noticed is how many local parents seem to be averse to a dental visit themselves.
“For many, it could be because they were traumatised by their own experience with their dentists in primary school, and this fear has, in a way, influenced their own children,” she said. “So I try to make the experience as enjoyable as possible, especially for the first-timers.”
HERE TO HELP
Besides the clinic, Dr Toh also volunteers at the AWWA School in Lorong Napiri, where she provides dental services to children with special needs. “Some kids, especially those with autism, require a routine in order to get used to anyone new; I go regularly so that they see the same dentist at every visit.”
To her, there is no greater reward than helping children overcome their fear of visiting a dentist.
“A little girl wrote me a thank-you card, and on it she drew a portrait of me, herself and all the things she loved about my clinic, including the TV and box of rewards and toys,” she said with a smile.
“It’s those little things that help our children take their first step to good oral health – one that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.”
“Many people have the misconception that baby teeth do not matter since they will be replaced by adult teeth anyway”
TIPS FOR YOUR KID’S FIRST DENTAL VISIT
- Play games with your children before they see a dentist. For instance, role-play and take turns to be the patient and dentist as you do a fun checkup on their soft toys.
- If you are afraid of seeing the dentist yourself, don’t show it to your children. Avoid using words such as “painful” when describing your experience. Stay calm in the dental clinic because children can sense your anxiety and become tense themselves.
- See a paediatric dentist within six months of the eruption of your child’s first tooth, or around the age of one. Give your children’s complete medical history to the dentist.
Thomson’s specialists see patients ranging from infants with their first tooth and toddlers with a full set of milk teeth to adolescents up to 18 years old