A different approach to pediatric dentistry
CAIRO: Surrounded by purple, orange, green and fuchsia, looking at the open playroom full of toys for all ages and experiencing a growing feeling of comfort, I had to keep reminding myself that I was at a dental clinic. After all, the strong smell of detergent and disinfectant and the plain décor that is always associated with the dreaded visit to the dentist were notably absent.
This modernly decorated reception welcomes you to Malak Badawi s Little Teeth, a pediatric dentistry clinic. While many in the still-limited field stop at hanging up a couple of Looney Tunes posters to make the place more child-oriented, Badawi has gone all the way with all sorts of games, gifts for children and a wall of honor, also known as the No Cavities Wall. The board, sporting pictures of grinning children, is an honor for those who manage to keep their teeth cavity-free.
Décor, in fact, first got her hooked on the American University, where she did her postgraduate studies.
The day I entered the hospital there to check out the program and I just set foot in it, I said this is where I want to be, Badawi says. The whole hospital is like entering Disney World.
After finishing her studies in dentistry at Indiana University, she adopted the same style in her first Cairo clinic, which opened its doors in February 2003. Even though the clinic was small, comprised of only two rooms, Badawi insisted on giving up half the space to a children’s play area. Later, when she opened a new clinic last December, she had the space to include a bigger play area, along with several equipped dental rooms.
But while the décor has made the place appealing for children – it is a chance to spend quality time with their parents playing a game together, or a place to meet their friends between appointments – Badawi stresses that it is mainly the approach the dentist takes with the child that makes the difference.
How she talks with the children and explains the process and how she makes them comfortable on the dental seat has gained her the trust of many children in the 4-14 age bracket. She also works with toddlers, starting to refer her patients to regular dentists around the age of 15, after their permanent teeth have come in.
Anything that we use with teeth usually looks scary. It looks frightening. It accentuates other things. And because they are kids, their imagination goes wild, says Badawi. She adds that she tries to explain to her patients what she will do in easier language so that they will understand.
Vacuum cleaner and tooth shower are some of the names Badawi uses in explaining her tools to the children, so they try to feel that what s going on is going to be a fun experience and it is not going to be this awful drilling [stereotype].
This, however, isn’t as easy as it sounds. For starters, many parents don’t have the time to follow up with their children s dental hygiene, whether at home or in maintaining regular, biannual checkups.
She also encounters difficult-to-manage children and those who have been negatively affected by a previous experience at the dentist.
The first type requires time in establishing boundaries. After a brief challenging period, the children end up trusting Badawi or at least relent to her position of power.
The latter requires time and effort on the part of the parents. You have to erase their memory and try to show them that nothing that happened there is going to happen here. You have a number of sessions of deleting, she explains.
She stays away from any reminder of their previous experience, making them feel comfortable and taking up a couple of sessions of regular check ups. She gradually tries to convey to them that going to the dentist doesn t necessarily mean pain.
Nonetheless, discomfort and pain can’t be totally eliminated from the process.
I believe that most of the time when the child likes you, when they are comfortable and when they trust you, they forgive you, she says.
She starts by preparing them for the expected discomfort but without frightening them. They will be prepared and at the same time they know that this is not the normal, so you are not sort of always related to pain.