What can we learn from my girls’ dentist?

I hated going to the dentist as a kid. When I was 7 (?), I had six teeth pulled because of crowding in my mouth. It was terrifying.

My girls went to the dentist today—and loved it. They came home telling stories about ‘the fun dentist’, and asking when they could go back.

What can we learn from my girls’ dentist?

(1) First impressions set the tone: When I was a kid, the waiting room at my dentist included a windowless paneled wall, a couple chairs, and a Mr. Potato Head (missing most of the pieces). As soon as my girls walked into their dentist, they were greeted by a huge fish tank—not doubt inspired by Nemo—and a cache of toys, surrounded by a bright, colorful, warm environment. Where I was off balance and on edge, their waiting room said, “Get ready, kiddo. It’s time to have fun.”

(2) Establish rapport: When it was time to bring the girls in for their check-up, they weren’t sent down a creepy hallway to a lonely room where they had to sit all alone for 20 minutes. Instead, a dental hygienist sat them down and, pulling out a tray of multi-colored nail polish, proceeded to paint their nails in rainbow hue. For a young girl, what’s more fun than having a young woman spend 10 minutes making you feel special?

(3) Involvement removes fear: Familiarity may well breed contempt, but it can also allay fears. After getting their X-rays, the girls were given miniature version of the X-ray photo to keep. When the dentist looked them over, she had the girls follow along on their own copy. All those machines and strange tools were, all of a sudden, not as scary.

(4) Entertain: The lights at the dentist have to be bright. They are really really bright. It’s one of the most annoying things about dental visits. Not here… the girls were given—to keep—special flowery sun glasses to wear while they were in the chair. They pretended to be at the beach.

Oh, and before poking around in their mouth, the dentist brushed glitter on their now-dry nails and let them pick out sticker highlights as well.

And when they came home, they were sent off with a bag full of cavity-fighting lollipops, gum, ‘special toothpaste’ and new Dora toothbrushes.

The extra attention may have added 15 minutes to the visit. The gifts may have added $5 to the bill. The joy and excitement in my girls’ after experiencing something that terrified me as a child?

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