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That's what it's all about

One recent evening, I was cleaning out some files in my office and ran across a folder that I keep little notes in. The notes have been written by me or my staff to remind us of the funny things that happen in the office. I had not seen this file for quite a while and took a moment to glance through it. One note in particular brought back a bright memory, and I would like to share the story with you.

In early 2003, a 5-year-old girl came to the office with many significant areas of decay. She was quite nervous about the proposed dental treatment, which consisted of several stainless steel crowns and some fillings. My staff and I tried to reassure her that we would take very good care of her and her teeth when she visited us for her dental treatment. The look on her face when she left our office after her initial visit was not what I would call a look of relaxation and confidence. I knew I would have my work cut out for me.

The child returned a few weeks later for her first appointment. She was very apprehensive about the treatment that I was going to do, but was very good about climbing into the dental chair as long as she could have her doll with her. My assistant and I began her appointment and explained everything we were doing as we proceeded. She was a terrific patient and left with a new shiny silver crown and a little silver star in her teeth.

I left the child in the play area with my assistant while I went to explain to her mother what I had done during the visit. Her mother and I returned to the play area to find the child in full dental regalia. In the play area, I have a dental chair that usually has a large stuffed bear sitting in it. The bear was on the floor and the little girl's doll was seated in the chair. The child had asked my assistant if she could have something to fix her baby's teeth. Maribeth gave her a little microbrush to use.

That was not enough, though—she needed more things. Maribeth asked the child what she needed. Her reply was, "Stuff to put on a crown." Maribeth gave her a bite stick, and our little patient went back to work on her doll.

When her mother and I came into the room, I asked my little patient what she was working on. She flashed a big smile and announced that she was giving her baby two silver crowns and two silver stars. "Wow" I said, "that's a lot of work!" Maribeth, my assistant (who was now my patient's assistant for this procedure), asked the child how long all of that treatment would take. The child replied, "Ten hours. No, 13 minutes." A few minutes later, she was finished and headed to the prize basket. She fished out a prize for herself and another for her doll.

Two weeks later she was back for more treatment. She came bounding back all smiles. Mom reported to me that she counts down the days to come back to the dentist, and she has to show her silver crown off to anyone and everyone. Her doll had stayed home this time because "she needed a nap." Her mother told us that her doll needed a break from all of the dental treatment that the budding dentist had been subjecting her to.

This story just makes me smile. It makes me feel like I made a real difference in this child's life. I was able to take a situation that she was very concerned about and turn it into playtime … literally. Her family has since moved away. I wonder if she will continue with her fascination of dentistry. Maybe someday she will become a dentist. Maybe she will just never have a fear of dental treatment. If that is the case, I did make a difference in her life, and that makes me very happy.

Dr. De Young is the immediate past president of the West Michigan District Dental Society. Her comments, reprinted here with permission, originally appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of the WMDDS publication, The Bulletin.