THE FLAT-SCREEN TV DOESN’T STAND A CHANCE.
In the Greenlake office of pediatric dentist Camille Sata, the set is rarely on. Plenty of other attractions lure both kids and parents. For Patrick McDermott, it was the Pooh Bear tree in the waiting room that made him an all-out fan of going to the dentist. His twin brother Kirby saw the Game Boys and thought, “This is where I want to be the rest of my life.”
Pediatric dentists like Sata carefully craft a kidcentric experience. “You want to start kids off with good dental practices so they have good practices as adults, too,” says M. J. McDermott, the boys’ mom and Q13 FOX’s morning meteorologist. The intrigue began for the twins in 1997, at age one. When they were old enough to walk on their own, they entered the office through a three-foot-high doorway sized just for them (accompanying grown-ups must use the regular entrance).
Once inside the waiting room, youngsters can crawl into the Pooh Bear tree on the right or peer at pale pink shelves to the left, lined with dainty teacups, vases, and lucky cats that wink under track lighting. The portal, er, door to the exam area elicits childlike wonder in adults: Frozen between glass panels are over 1,000 shimmering paper cranes—silver, green, blue, pink, orange, yellow, and purple—signifying happiness and prosperity, hand-folded by Sata and her husband.
Growing up in Baltimore, Sata saw a pediatric dentist who made her feel special. Every day, she recreates with her patients that ideal dentist experience from her childhood, adding touches that are all her own. “I’ll fold a crane with a scared kid. It’s a good bonding icebreaker.”
Beyond the thousand-crane door, an open area with four chairs allows kids to see others getting treatment, alleviating some of the mystery for anxious patients. “Going to doctors and dentists can be really scary for kids,” says -McDermott. Although she doesn’t allow video games at home, she let the twins play with the Game Boys at Sata’s office; she cites an MSNBC article she read about the games performing better than some sedatives at calming kids down.
Some parents stay nearby on the benches lining the windows onto Green Lake Drive, in case Junior needs encouragement to open wide. Some parents sing, some hold up iPads to distract kids from momentary discomfort in the chair. Some leave to grab a coffee for the easier portion of a visit and come back for the more involved part. “In standard pediatric dentistry, kids go in, parents stay out,” says Sata. “That doesn’t work here because parents and kids are so close.”
Sata sticks with patients through their formative years, challenging them to engage in their own dental care. She says, “Make kids feel important, give them a good basis for a long life of healthy teeth.” She recommended the -McDermotts’ oral surgeon when their gums needed attention; she referred them to their orthodontist for straightening their bites. Now they’re six foot one and 15 years old. Their days visiting Sata’s practice are numbered, so you can’t really blame them if they try to squeeze through the kids’ door just once more.