Dental Tribune International
In Blij Gebit, Stefanie Verdaasdonk (left) and Daniëlle van de Water (right) coach children and their parents on achieving excellent oral health. (Image: Jolien Tensen Fotografie)

A practice exclusively for children: “We turn every appointment into a party”

By Curaden
July 02, 2021

BERGEN OP ZOOM, Netherlands: Blij Gebit (Dutch for “happy teeth”) is a dental hygiene practice aimed specifically at children. It was started in the town of Bergen Op Zoom earlier this year by dental hygienist Stefanie Verdaasdonk, who runs the practice with her assistant, Daniëlle van de Water. The unique mix of child psychology, prevention and coaching—but also the inexhaustible patience and enthusiasm of Verdaasdonk and Van de Water—make Blij Gebit a place where children go with pleasure, even those with a fear of the dentist. “Living to be 100 with healthy teeth, that’s the goal,” said Verdaasdonk, “and also having fun. We turn every appointment into a party.”

“After about five years in a regular dental practice, I noticed that the treatment of children could be different and better,” Verdaasdonk began. “In most practices, everything happens at a fast pace because large patient flows have to be dealt with. As a dentist, you soon have targets and a feeling that you need to get someone out of the chair quickly. With children, you really have to put them at ease first, which is simply not possible in a regular practice. When I founded Blij Gebit this year, I knew that a good atmosphere and accessibility would be central.”

After focusing on paediatric dental care at university, Verdaasdonk began her career in youth dental care, where in her own words, she “caught the children bug”. “In addition to dental hygiene, I have a background in child psychology and paediatric dental care; Daniëlle is also a children’s coach. Regular dental practices make a good attempt at being kind to children, but of course, a child doesn’t necessarily experience it that way. That is why we approach each child as an individual. And we turn every treatment into a party, no matter what needs to happen.”

(Image: Jolien Tensen Fotografie)

Professionals sound the alarm

Blij Gebit was established as a response to the need for more oral disease preventive care for children. A study by the Gemeentelijke Gezondheids Dienst (municipal health services), conducted right before the pandemic, revealed that more than 20% of children in the Netherlands do not visit a dental hygienist at all. According to Verdaasdonk, the pandemic has only made matters worse. “I have seen at first hand that even fewer children went to the dentist in the past year than before, and the number of cavities has clearly increased. I can only assume that this is also the case at a European level. The urgent need for dental hygiene and continuous prevention for children was the trigger for me to start my own practice. Prevention is the first line of defence against disease, so we collaborate very closely with schools and local dentists.”

Verdaasdonk has seen relatively little of the health craze that has come to dominate social media in recent years. “In the 1980s, you had the introduction of fluoridation, and there were many campaigns that promoted oral hygiene. Those campaigns were largely discontinued in the 1990s and 2000s, and I feel that there is a lack of awareness around prevention among people who grew up in these decades, although they are the ones who are having children now. Personally, I have noticed that the oral health of children is deteriorating, especially among teenagers. Our partnership with Curaprox really comes at the perfect moment, especially now that the brand is rolling out its children’s line. We are both all about prevention rather than repairing.”

Casualness on all levels

Because every child is different, no two appointments are the same. However, a first visit always includes a tour of the practice. “The first time children visit the practice, we show them around, and if it feels right, we will already take a look at the child’s teeth,” said Verdaasdonk. “We don’t mind if the latter takes place on the beanbags in the waiting room; the casualness of our appointments is a great way to take away children’s fear and make the practice accessible. The pictures on the walls show kids brushing their teeth, so children know that brushing is what our practice is about first and foremost. And no child thinks brushing is scary. Children also see that we treat babies and children younger than they are, which gives them the feeling that there is nothing that they couldn’t do.”

“Timewise, we really do schedule our consultations very generously. Children have an hour to ask questions, get to know us or even try out our equipment. That may sound strange, but if children know what a certain piece of equipment is for, there is less to be afraid of. Another thing that makes treatment less scary for a child is when mum or dad is in the treatment chair, and I ask the child to assist me. The treatment room itself does not have any creepy doors, by the way, so that a child always feels that getting in the chair is a choice.”

“Children who fear the dentist are often anxious in general. Mostly, however, there has been a traumatic experience in the past—children have their fears for a reason. In such cases, we build up a relationship of trust with the child. This is done step by step. It is not up to us to determine what a child can handle. If a child overcomes a step by simply setting foot in the practice, we already have a reason to celebrate. So for each child, we estimate how many steps are needed. If the answer is a hundred, then so be it.”

(Image: Jolien Tensen Fotografie)

Learning by doing

“The greatest misunderstanding among parents is that small children can brush their teeth themselves, but until the age of about 10, children do not have the required fine motor skills. Another issue is that many parents bring their own fears into the dental practice. The old-fashioned school dentist of yesteryear has instilled fear in many of today’s parents. If mothers or fathers are afraid, they will pass their fear on to their children. We always communicate and coach parents so that they know that regular check-ups are necessary, but also in order to instruct them on what good dental care entails. Oral care should be prevention first, repair second. Our motto is ‘Live to be 100 with healthy teeth’, because it is possible.”

“Coaching parents is important because lifestyle is everything: most of what happens at home—diet, behaviour or brushing—has a direct influence on the children’s oral health. Nevertheless, we avoid pointing the finger at all costs. We do not focus on what is wrong, but improve where necessary and work towards keeping healthy teeth for a lifetime. We prefer to give homework after each appointment that parents and children can work on together. From there we go forward. Parents join us in the treatment room and learn how to do everything. We use a plaque colour test to show where brushing should be improved. We also show parents the best brushing techniques so that they can brush their children’s teeth or instruct them as well as possible. It is all about learning by doing.”

“In the end, I think that my personality and that of Daniëlle contribute a great deal to making the practice what it is,” Verdaasdonk concluded. “Not everyone has the patience or the desire to make a party out of every single step forward, but in our case, the chemistry works. Encouraging children and celebrating every little achievement a child makes is in our blood.”

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