When dental hygienist Margaret Conrad arrives at work in the morning, she’s not greeted by the quiet beige walls and elevator music of a typical dentist’s office. Instead she hears upbeat pop tunes and sees a colorful mural of life under the sea.
Conrad works at Thomas J. Weyrich Pediatric Dentistry, a dental office just for kids where everything is designed to make children feel at ease. The atmosphere also makes working there lots of fun.
Dental offices geared toward children have become more and more common. In fact, Gainesville has at least three offices catering exclusively to a younger clientele, including Dentistry for Children of Georgia, Kids Dentistry of North Georgia and Weyrich, based on an Internet search.
Lauren Nichlls, office manager at Kids Dentistry of North Georgia, said she thinks this is because more parents are recognizing the need for specialized dentistry for their kids. In response to the higher demand, more doctors are specializing in pediatric dentistry.
While childrens’ dentistry has become more prevalent in recent years, Conrad said the specialization has been around for a long time. Weyrich began his practice in Gainesville in 1996, but he replaced another pediatric dentist who retired, Conrad said. Like Nichlls, she said it’s parents who are driving the increased visibility of pediatric dentistry.
“I think the trend started coming when parents started realizing that kids’ needed dental work done,” she said.
Conrad said people are often surprised to learn dentistry affects their overall health, and an infection of the mouth could cause complications for the whole body. A lot of pediatric dentistry is about teaching children and parents about oral hygiene and general health.
“We tell (kids), ‘Your mouth isn’t separate from the rest of your body; it’s part of your body, and the dentist is a doctor for your mouth,” she said.
While infections can lead to complications at any age, Nichlls said this can be especially so in children because they still have their baby teeth and the permanent teeth are growing.
Pediatric dentists can also catch developmental problems pediatricians may not notice, Conrad said. Early warning signs sometimes present themselves in the mouth.
Weyrich’s office and North Georgia Dentistry, under Dr. Ryan Vaughn, also treat special needs adults. Although these patients have adult teeth, Conrad and Nichlls said pediatric dentistry practices are equipped to help special-needs patients.
They often require the same type of attention children do, from dealing with anxiety to involving parents in instructions about oral hygiene.
Anxiety in special-needs patients and children is handled differently with each individual, but typically, both offices say they start by explaining everything they do and trying to make it sound fun.
“It’s a lot more relaxed (than a general dentistry practice), and we talk to children on their level,” Conrad said. “We even try to keep up with the newest Disney movies. We talk to them about their day, about school, try to really get to know them.”
“When a child walks in, they’re going to have everything explained to them before they even get in the chair, and we may not even put them in the chair if they have very high anxiety,” Nichlls said. “We try to explain everything in kids’ terms. What is typically called an air water syringe, we call a water gun. We call the sucking sounds ‘Mr. Slurpy.’”
Nichlls said kids watch movies on the children’s Netflix channel and, depending on whether they are at the Gainesville or Flowery Branch office, play in a treehouse or with a train set while they wait for their appointment.
Conrad said being in a pediatric practice is fun for adults, too.
“I’ve been in this office for 10 years now. I just really enjoy it,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to work with children, and I really love our special-needs patients.”