Scarlette Cain-Potts, 6, of Winlock loves the movie “Coraline.” She also loves vampires and mermaids, and might be one of those for Halloween.
One thing she used to not like was going to the dentist.
That was, until she started going to Happy Kids Dentistry in Chehalis.
“It’s really good. The best dentist,” said mom Courtney Cain. “They keep her occupied and she’s not scared of the dentist anymore.”
Happy Kids Dentistry was founded in Longview in 2004 with a mission of treating all pediatric patients as members of their family. The newly opened Chehalis practice, located in the Twin City Town Center next to Michaels, is their second location. Another location in Auburn is opening soon. Operations manager Brittany Cole explained that the Chehalis location came about because they had a large number of patients from the Chehalis and Centralia areas coming to their Longview location.
“We were asked a lot if we were going to come this way and eventually, the need was enough to open a second location,” said Cole.
Cole explained the primary goal at Happy Kids is help kids grow into dental patients who feel comfortable, educated and who continue to visit the dentist and have good oral health their entire lives. The comfort starts the minute you walk into the waiting room, which is modeled after a cozy coffee shop. Kids can play chess or read a book from the tree-shaped bookcase and moms and dads can enjoy a hot beverage from Keurig. Comfort for their kid patients is accomplished by making sure that mom and dad are part of the process, Cole explained. Parents are encouraged to sit with their children while they are having procedures done so they can see what goes on and receive the same education as their child.
“If you have parents who are comfortable, it puts the kids at ease,” Cole said. “It’s not only a level of comfort for the child but it’s an opportunity to give more education and more information about oral health.”
Comfort for their youngest patients is also about the staff’s interaction with kids, explained Dr. Sukhmani Jassar, BDS, MDS, one of three dentists that serve patients at Happy Kids Dentistry. All three dentists are specifically trained in pediatric dentistry and all staff are trained in behavior modification so no matter a child’s behavior, they can handle it.
“We really do believe in having happy kids. You can fill a cavity but it really is pointless if, at the end, you have a kid who has fear of the dentist,” Jassar said. “We love what we do and we love serving kids and every kid is so different from another.”
Jassar said that for herself, a calling into pediatric dentistry was actually born out of childhood dentistry trauma. As a child, she actually removed her own braces and refused to go back to the orthodontist until the age of 32 because of a negative experience at the dentist. She said when began having an interest in a career in dentistry, she figured there must be a better way and was pleasantly surprised to professionals who had made a career out of alleviating children’s fear of the dentist. She said she believes it is her personal experience, and the other similar personal experiences of staff members, that give them a heart for this work.
“You’ve been through this and you understand the children’s fear,” Jassar said. “Even to this day when I have to have a shot, I’m nervous. We understand their fears and we approach it in a different way. I think it takes a special person to work in children’s dentistry.”
“When you’ve seen the other side of it, you have compassion for patients,” said Cole, who started at Happy Kids 14 years ago as a dental assistant and was also inspired to go into dentistry because of negative experiences at the dentist as a child.
One of the techniques used to make kids feel at ease in the dentist chair has to do with language. Staff never mention needles, Jassar instead uses “sleepy juice” on the patient’s teeth. “Squirt guns” are used to rinse patients’ mouths. “Rain jackets” are used to keep their mouth dry. A “wiggly jellyfish” helps with suction. And sometimes kids get an “Iron Man tooth” or a “princess crown” when metal is added to their mouth.
At Happy Kids Dentistry, creating a comfortable environment for young dentistry patients also includes an element of fun. All of the dental assistants are trained as balloon artists. When a patient finishes their appointment, they receive a token that can be used to get a toy out of a prize tower. Televisions hang over the dentist chairs, where kids can watch a movie of their choosing. And the dentists have been known on occasion to sing to their patients or challenge them to a dance-off.
“We’re generally happy,” Cole said. “We’re all kind people. That’s really important to us. And we’re just always looking for ways to have a good time.”
At Happy Kids Dentistry, it is recommended kids come for a visit by their first tooth or their first birthday. Generally, patients stay until the age of 18, although Cole said those with uncomplicated oral care have been known to stay with their practice through college. Happy Kids Dentistry accepts all insurance, including Washington State (DSHS) and also offers payment plans through CareCredit. Appointments at Happy Kids Dentistry are generally 30-40 minutes and first-time appointments include a tour of the facility and consultation with the dentist before any work is done.
“The main reason is to establish a relationship with the parent and child at an early age,” Cole said. “If you have a child who has been here since age 1, they know Happy Kids Dentistry is a fun place. We have a lot of kids who cry because they don’t want to leave.”
Happy Kids Dentistry can also be a place for kids who already have a family dentist. Cole explained they establish good working relationships with family practice dentists in the area so that if they have a young patient who needs extensive dental work done or is expressing any fear over an aspect of their dental care, they can visit Happy Kids Dentistry for a short time to help alleviate that fear. With these patients, the goal is always to get the kid back on track feeling positive about dental care and return them to their home dentist.
“We pride ourselves that the kid will go back to their regular dentist for their routine care,” Cole explained.
Besides helping their own patients, Happy Kids’ goal is to reach the community as a whole. Happy Kids has a Tooth Fairy character available to visit local schools and organizations to talk about oral health and bring toothbrushes and other goodies to kids. On Nov. 1, the Chehalis location will offer a candy buy-back where local kids can bring in their Halloween candy and get paid $1 for every pound they turn in. All donated candy is given to Operation Gratitude, which sends the candy in care packages to U.S. troops abroad. In the Longview location, Happy kids offers a parking lot painting contest where local schools can earn money and art supplies for great designs and a free family fun run. Cole said they are hoping to be able to offer these or other similar events in Chehalis in the near future. She said the Longview branch also has a strong relationship with local non-profits and they are hoping to establish those in Chehalis as well.
“We love to be part of the community not just in the community,” Cole said.