Understanding Pediatric Dental Patients

We’ve all had them, the kids who climb into the operatory chair and whine and scream.

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by Ann-Marie C. DePalma

We’ve all had them, the kids who climb into the operatory chair and whine and scream. Or the kids who are great during most of the appointment, then vomit when they hear “fluoride.” Or the children who are perfect role models for dental operatory poster children. These and other types of children are discussed in Cathy Seckman’s program, “Screamers, Whiners and Fussers: Providing the Best for Patients and Parents.”

Cathy focuses on pediatric management from psychological to practical standpoints. Having a fussy five-year-old in the schedule can be a nightmare for the hygienist. But instead of dreading the patients, hygienists who attend this program will learn to embrace the challenge, conquer their insecurities, and make dental visits better for challenging children.

In the first section of the program, Cathy discusses what management tools to use with difficult patients and worried parents. From there, she talks about the role hygienists can play in nutritional counseling and building lasting relationships with patients and their families, providing that “dental home” for families.

Cathy presents two other programs titled “From Pre-Natal to Pre-School” and “Gimme that Ding-Dong,” to provide general and oral health care for mothers and babies, and pediatric nutritional counseling.

The learning objectives for “Screamers, Whiners and Fussers” include:

  • Understanding the reasons behind problem behaviors
  • Mastering the techniques for defusing tantrums, calming fears, and encouraging good behavior
  • Exploring the latest facts on pediatric topics such as thumb sucking, pacifiers, and fluoride varnishes
  • Empowering parents to provide better oral health care at home while understanding and applying sound pediatric nutritional principles
  • Discussing ways to build continuing relationships with children and their parents.

The program has four sections. Section One discusses the behaviors of children ages one to three years, holding them painlessly, giving them confidence as partners in the process, and explaining the “dental” rules. Cathy discusses the use of pacifiers and thumb sucking, the exposing of radiographs in young mouths, setting the stage for the next appointment, and treating children with special needs. Section Two discusses the importance of brushing even when the child refuses, the science of pediatric oral care, inspirations for teens, and the use of floss. Section Three focuses on parental nutritional guidance and the science behind the nutrition, while Section Four offers suggestions for building loyalty in patients and families, the role of orthodontics, and dealing with cavity-free patients.

Cathy believes that managing children well in the dental setting accomplishes three things - it makes the hygienist’s job easier, it gives children confidence, and it produces good dental patients for a lifetime. Her primary goal through the program is to give participants “take home” messages they can use immediately in practice. Examples of these are “Have you ever used Sea-Bands?” “Do you know about Fluori-check?” and “What’s the best way to make a toddler brush?” Cathy feels that all members of the dental team benefit from this program since everyone in the practice deals with children, so management is a key issue.

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Cathy Seckman spoke on pediatric management at the RDH Under One Roof conference in Washington, D.C.
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In 2003, Cathy began working with Jay Reznik, DMD, MS, a pediatric dentist. She had known Jay as a friend and fellow biker (yes, motorcycles). She had temped in his practice a few times, but it was with much hesitation that Cathy decided to focus her hygiene career on children. After years in general practice, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to spend all her time working with children. She has no children of her own and had never been very successful managing them in the dental environment. But she was also attracted to mastering a new relationship skill and she really wanted to work with Dr. Reznik.

Cathy began working with Dr. Reznik two days per week. Pediatric management turned out to be such a compelling and fascinating subject that Cathy read everything she could on the topic, did research, and tried to find continuing education programs on pediatric management. However, she couldn’t find anything that helped. That’s when she decided that with her newfound knowledge, she could be the one to educate others.

Cathy uses PowerPoint in her programs, along with a comprehensive outline, a complete reference list, and a list of helpful phone numbers and Web addresses. She also incorporates a group activity.

Cathy is a graduate of the West Liberty State College in Wheeling, W.V., with an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. She has accumulated a few credits towards a bachelor’s degree in humanities, but says she is on the “40-year plan” since it will take her a long time to finish the degree. She attends more than 50 hours of continuing education a year in dentistry, writing and indexing, has written for numerous dental and dental hygiene publications since 1986, and has spoken on a casual basis for several years to local groups.

And today, indexing has become her primary work. A brief explanation - most nonfiction books have an index in the back. Authors and editors don’t normally compile these; it takes specialized knowledge and computer programs. Some publishers have in-house indexers, but much of the work is outsourced to freelance indexers. She has done indexes for books on dental assisting and management, medical assisting, nursing, terrorism, U.S. history, fashion design, education, and etiquette, among others. She served as president of the five-state Heartland Chapter of the American Society of Indexers in 2006-07, and is currently its vice president/president elect.

After not being a member for several years, Cathy rejoined ADHA in 2006.

Without wonderful mentors and role models, such as Anne Guignon and Mark Hartley, Cathy believes she would not be where she is today. She encourages all who have a special interest, whatever it may be, to pursue their dream.

Quoting Judy Sulik, a hygienist/author Cathy once interviewed for RDH, “If you have an idea, give it a shot. Don’t worry about whether you are professional enough. A lot of people have good ideas they don’t implement because they think of reasons to be rejected. Research your idea, work the numbers, and if you think an idea makes sense, try it!” That’s what Cathy did when she entered pediatric management, and it has grown from there.

For more information about Cathy’s programs, contact CSeckman@raex.com.

About the Author

Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FAADH, is an assistant professor at Northern Essex Community College. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene, member of ADHA, and other professional associations. Ann-Marie presents continuing education programs for hygienists and dental team members and has written numerous articles on a variety of topics. She can be reached at amrdh@aol.com.

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