Days dedicated to treating children are becoming a popular way of engaging young people in dentistry and they also prove to be both cost and time efficient.
Practice Plan‘s Laura Jones went along to The Old Surgery in Crewe to meet Practice Manager Lisa Bainham to pick up a few hints and tips on how to plan a children’s day in your dental practice.
LJ: Tell us a bit about your children’s days
Every school holiday, we aim to hold a dedicated children’s day in our dental practice, meaning we tend to have around six or seven each year. For us, we’ve found that normally a Monday or Friday works best. During the summer holidays, we make sure there are two dates, one at either end, to give people more of a chance to attend.
LJ: Why do you do them?
We used to see our NHS children on a Monday and Tuesday from about 4.00 pm, but we’d find that parents would be running late, they’d be a bit stressed on arrival or possibly cancel at the last minute, and it was bedlam in the practice. Having lots of children in the practice at the end of the day was also a bit annoying for our adult private patients. It just wasn’t working that well for anyone, so we decided to try something different. We figured if we could see at least 70 – 80% of our kids in the holiday period then it would be silly not to try it.
LJ: So, what happens on the day?
We decided that all the staff would dress up and we would have various things going on to make it a fun environment. We have someone come along to do face painting, we have a colouring corner and we hand out balloons and stickers to the children. It’s a party atmosphere. The kids come in, they look at us all dressed up and think we are good fun, and I suspect the parents think we are a little mad. We try to aim for themes like children’s TV characters, that sort of thing. In the summer we went for a seaside theme, with a beach hut that the children could colour in. We have music on and do competitions. At the end of their visit we always give away a free children’s toothbrush and reward chart. Basically, the children play and get distracted; when it’s time to see the dentist they might walk into surgery and be welcomed by a smurf, it’s all good fun to put them at ease.
LJ: Is there a lot of planning or marketing involved?
It’s important to be organised. We have flyers that we send out in recall letters. We update our website with a year’s worth of dates and let people know on our social media platforms. We’re involved with local schools, so we visit them to do presentations. Our treatment coordinator and hygienist go along and make sure the children have a flyer to let the parents know about the days.
On each of the days, we hold a raffle to raise money for Home Start, a local charity that supports families with difficulties. To support this we get the papers involved to raise awareness and put out a radio advert. With regards to the actual day, the appointments are just for children, apart from emergencies. We book the children in slots, but if anyone is running late it’s no problem. We can shuffle people around, we have entertainment going on, and so if someone comes in late, they can wait to be slotted in.
When a child sees the dentist, they might need some varnish, fissure sealants or need a little help with their oral health, so we have two hygienists who are free all day who can see them if they need to. We find that this works really well because, effectively, the parents are getting what would normally be two or three separate appointments in one go. It removes the nightmare element of more visits for the parents and trying to come after or during school. If they need to wait for five or ten minutes then it isn’t a big deal as the children go back to playing and are distracted.
We have a dentist called Christina, who specialises and treats children using inhalation sedation, so if we have a child who needs a tooth out or potential ortho extractions we can send them over to her for the initial assessment. It reinforces that the treatment they will have to come back for doesn’t need to be scary. Each one that we do, we seem to be getting better and better.
“By having a dedicated day, we see around 100 children per dentist.”
LJ: What’s the response been like?
The feedback we have is just lovely, especially from the children. We do a mini questionnaire which we encourage the children to fill out. Only simple questions, like, ‘What’s the best thing about today?’, and ‘What’s the worst thing?’ The responses we get are really sweet, they put things like, ‘I enjoyed dressing up’ and the worst thing they will put is ‘going home’, which always makes us proud because how many children say that about the dentist?
The parents’ responses have been great as well. In the past, we have had parents who aren’t patients at the practice but decide to join when they see how we make a fuss of their children. They often say; ‘this is really nice, can I come too?’.
We strongly believe now that a visit to the dentists doesn’t need to be stressful or scary. The children might not like everything that they may need to have done, but we believe that we can make it a nice environment for them to experience.
So it’s been worth the effort to hold a dedicated day for children?
Definitely! More often than not, children are overlooked, but we see them as our future plan patients. The team really do get into it, they organise their outfits and share them around, the dentists order in pizzas for them, they enjoy having the time to play and interact with the children in a way that they haven’t had before.
By having a dedicated day, we see around 100 children per dentist. From a UDA point of view, we think it’s the most efficient way to handle our diary and see our children. One of our dentists commented that it’s great as the children are smiling when they come into his surgery. We love having all the action in one day, the chaos becomes fun and it turns into a day that we are prepared for.
Six tips to plan a children’s day in your dental practice
1) Make sure the whole team commits
Make sure your team is keen and onboard, including the dentists. We all look silly dressed up on the day; it’s just a case of going for it and having fun.
2) Give people plenty of notice
The trick is to send your recalls out at least a month before to give patients plenty of time to book. Over time you will find that when a patient comes in for the children’s day they then book ahead for the next one.
3) Keep the children entertained and they will be happy
A happy child means a happy parent which in turn means a happy environment for your staff to work in.
4) Be quite strict with zoning of the diary
Bear in mind that a sixteen year old might feel embarrassed to attend a day dedicated to children and be better suited to your normal work day environment.
5) Encourage people to turn up early
This ensures that the children have time to play before hand and aren’t disappointed.
6) Exploit your PR opportunities
A kid’s day is a perfect story for the local press and media. Give the media plenty of notice with a press release and invite them along to the day. Or send them pictures and a story after the day.
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