When I was a young girl, I had a paralyzing fear of dentists. I avoided them at all costs and I associated them with all things that are evil. As I grew up, I forced myself to face this fear and realized that dentists are actually good for you and want what is best for your overall health – and not just your oral health. Alas, I still know plenty of adults who never overcame this fear. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ahmed Altimimi – a renowned pediatric dentist in Kuwait, and I found myself wondering if I had him as my dentist when I was a child, would I have been so afraid?
Dr. Ahmed Altimimi completed his studies in Kuwait University in 2011, following which he worked in the government sector primarily treating children. He then continued his studies at the University of Leeds where he gained his Doctor of Paediatric Dentistry and Special Needs in 2016. He currently works full-time in the private sector at Dr. Nael AlHazeem Dental Centre treating pediatric and adolescent patients, including anxious, medically compromised and patients with special needs. A variety of techniques are used for patient management, including non-pharmacological and pharmacological techniques such as use of nitrous-oxide sedation and general anesthesia.
“One of the main issues is lack of accountability. For example, parents tend to blame their child for their poor hygiene or oral health, when in fact in some cases they may be partly responsible. Common things we hear are ‘they never brush; they always eat sweets’. As parents they are the primary providers and should be able to regularly monitor what enters their house in terms of unhealthy food items, and also encourage a positive attitude towards general and oral health.” Dr. Ahmed elaborated that parents are ultimately responsible over the well-being of their children and as such are accountable for their oral health.
“Sometimes we also see parents bringing in their kids late for treatment. The child presents with a chronic infection or pain for more than a few months that may have been an issue for the child, but some parents seem to either neglect or miss the signs, not considering it as a priority. Or in some cases, we get parental diagnosis, meaning they self-diagnose the problem and treat it at home with over-the-counter remedies, believing primary teeth are not important. There has been a well-established link between poor quality of life as a result of dental infections and diseases, even at a young age. Another issue is lack of accountability in the schools. Though the policies are changing, there are still some schools that allow the sale of carbonated drinks and unhealthy snacks.”
And so, the question remains, how will this impact the overall health of a child?
“A child with pain and infection is a child who is more likely to miss time from school, time from play, and miss multiple opportunities. Constant infections may affect eating and sleeping habits. When we only see children with pain, they are more likely to link dentists with pain, and these patients may provide a challenge to the dentist to try and “convert’ them to non-anxious patients.” Dr. Ahmed’s words perfectly articulated the reason that I, as a child, along with many other children fear dentists. Essentially, we link them with pain because we are only taken there when there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
There are several factors affecting children’s understanding of dental health and oral hygiene, and according to Dr. Ahmed, they are “parents’ cooperation, knowledge, attitude and behaviour. Families in the same house tend to share similar behaviours, though there may be some exceptions. Also, maternal anxiety has been linked to children’s anxiety when it comes to dental treatment. We always want to encourage our children even if we have negative feelings about the dentist. A good dentist as well, will help prevent the development of further disease before treating the damage that the disease has caused. As one of my previous teachers once said, if the house is on fire, before putting up new windows, stop the fire. The same principle applies to treating dental decay.”
In an affluent country such as Kuwait, is it not disheartening to have such high recurrences of dental issues affecting children? “This is a very preventable, and in the early stages, reversible condition. However, there is a lack of belief of how important ‘temporary’ teeth are. Some families believe they will fall out anyways so why do anything. Another issue is finding the time. Lots of parents are very career-oriented, and so, finding time to take your child to the dentist in the midst of work, parenting, and other family matters may not be so easy. Though afternoon dental services are available, it is all about using the service and having the best staff to manage the service as well. We need to shift our focus from treating the disease to preventing it first. The cost of preventing it long term is significantly less that treating disease.”
Another recurring phenomenon I wanted to discuss with Dr. Ahmed is the need for orthodontic care and how necessary it has become to sustain a long-lasting, healthy smile. How soon is too soon to start considering this option for children?
“This can be quite variable, but ideally, the patient should be regularly seen from the age of 1 year, allowing us to pick up and manage the case in a timely manner. Treatment can start as early as 7 years for single-teeth alignment, however, it depends on the condition. Orthodontic treatment covers a large spectrum of managements, from interceptive tooth extraction to fixed wire braces. We can also give orthodontic appliances to stop habits like digit sucking. The main message is that regular check-ups with your pediatric dentist, even in the absence of pain and infection, is critical to help identify orthodontic problems as early as possible so we can collaborate with other specialists in our field to plan timely management.”
Finally, Dr. Ahmed has left us with the following key tips and pointers to take care of our children’s dental health – as well as our own.
- Please, watch what your child is eating and drinking. It will be cruel to not allow sweets altogether, but a quick sweet straight after lunchtime is fine. Instead of giving your children money to buy their lunches at school, prepare a wholesome meal for your children, with no fizzy drinks, offering water or milk instead.
- We know you love your child and want the best for them, that is why you are going to the dentist, but it is important to allow the dentist to build a rapport with your child. Interrupting them and using negative words like pain and injections may actually be counterproductive. Pediatric dentists are likely to use more friendly terms. If you do have any questions or concerns, by all means, share them but be aware of your child and how they may react to what is said in the clinic.
- Some parents resort to bribing or lying to their child to attend their appointment, that rarely works and may be difficult for the dentist to rectify afterwards. Speak to your pediatric dentist beforehand, as some clinics provide dental stories to prepare children for the first visit.
- It is important to understand your child’s limits, and for some, an extra 10 seconds or 1 minute on the chair may be going past their limit. So, if we do not always finish what we intended to, it is okay. Encourage the positive bits of the appointment like “you know today you helped the dentist a lot, you stayed still and opened your mouth really big” or “you did a great job putting the tooth to sleep”. Please do not try to explain things to them as an adult. Kids are kids and some adult words may actually be too scary for them like “you were very brave with the needle”.
To learn more about Dr. Ahmed Altimimi, visit @drahmedaltimimi on Instagram
Nourah Al-Oseimi is a 26-year-old Kuwaiti who holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration. Nourah has worked in different places such as the Central Bank of Kuwait and the United Nations. She serves as a free-lance contributing writer to the Times Kuwait – Newsmagazine. Her column – Essentially Kuwaiti – will feature an in-depth look on exceptional young Kuwaitis and their efforts towards the realization of a New Kuwait.