Jacksonville dentist Gina Mancini knows that a trip to the dentist can be scary for kids. But teaching kids what to expect when they go in for a checkup can go a long way toward easing their fears and fostering lifelong healthy habits. That’s why she wrote children’s books “Tabitha the Tooth” and “Tanner the Tooth,” which come packaged with plush buddies who love to come along to the dentist’s office. The books hit stores in November and are available now at Mancini’s website, absjacksonvillenc.com.
We asked Mancini how to ease kids fears about the dentist and about her experiences as a mom of five.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself, and about your family.
A: I am blessed with a wonderful husband and five wonderful children,
four boys and one girl. I am definitely outnumbered in my house. However, I would not have it any other way. I call my home environment “fun chaos.” It can be a challenge sometimes to reduce the energy level in the house. So, one of my favorite things is to order pizza, spread a tablecloth on the family room floor and have an indoor picnic. We play a game called Highs and Lows. This is where you go around the circle and share the high and low of your day. The kids love it and it is a fun way for me to find out about their day.
Q: You’ve written two books to help kids learn about dental health. Tell us about those: Why did you decide to write them, and what issues do you address in them?
A: I am excited to announce the release of “Tabitha the Tooth” and “Tanner the Tooth.” These children’s books focus on four main issues: nutritious snack choices, brushing, flossing and visiting the dentist. The books come in a set with a Tabitha doll for girls and a Tanner buddy for boys. The idea is that the plush characters can serve as daily reminders of the lessons talked about in the book and children can also take them to their dental appointments as an extra comfort tool.
I came up with the idea of Tabitha the Tooth when I was asked to speak at my son’s elementary school during dental health month about four years ago. I took posters and models of teeth and kept their attention for all of 5 minutes. The next year, surprisingly, I was asked to come back, and this time I was determined to keep the kids’ attention for the entire presentation. The idea of writing a play about a tooth named Tabitha came to me one day. I wanted to entertain the children as well as educate them. My staff agreed to dress up in giant tooth, carrot and toothpaste costumes and dance around on stage. The kids loved it, and my staff and I loved performing it! We performed the play in our community many times over the next several years. Last December, I decided to turn the play into a book. Mascot Books will be selling the box set in Barnes and
Noble, Books-a-Million, Amazon and other retailers starting in November. I have created a website where the box sets can be purchased now, tabithathetooth.com.
Q: At what age should kids make their first visit to the dentist?
A: The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children see the dentist when their first tooth erupts and no later than their first birthday. Primary teeth can be susceptible to tooth decay, and therefore dental exams are recommended by the age of one. Parents can expect a child's first tooth to appear around the age of six months. There are dental offices however, that will not see children until the age of three. If you have trouble locating a general dental practice that will see children this young, try finding a pediatric dental practice.
Q: How can parents best prepare their child for that first visit?
A: I tell parents — when preparing for the first visit or coming back for the
second, third and so on — to keep it simple and fun. My staff and I use fun
words such as “tooth counter” and “Mister Thirsty.” Keep it positive.
Parents can also play pretend before the appointment. Practice opening and looking in each other's mouths, or use a stuffed animal to practice with. I know that sometimes parents can be nervous about bringing their child to the first visit, but it is important not to let your child sense this. The calmer the parent, the calmer the child.
Q: If a child is fearful about the dentist — either the first time or later on — what can parents do to soothe him? And what do you, as a dentist, do when a young patient is upset to make it go as well as possible?
A: If a child is fearful even after all you have tried, do not give up. Continue
to try to ease their anxiety and continue with good dental home care. Praise your children after brushing and flossing. When a child arrives at our office upset or anxious, my staff and I will do all we can to soothe them. We have video games and toys in our playroom, a selection of kids shows they can watch in our treatment chairs, cool sunglasses to wear to help block the bright light, and then a treasure chest of toys after the visit is complete.
However, there are times that I may recommend a child be seen by a pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentists have two to three years of training after dental school in the treatment of children. They have been educated on many techniques that can be used to lessen children's anxiety.
Q: You’ve got lots of great tricks for working with kids in your dentistry practice. What about as a mom of five? What's the best parenting trick you've picked up along the way?
A: I am still trying to find one! In all seriousness, being a parent has been the hardest job I have ever had, and the most rewarding. All five of my children are so different and they handle things so differently. I tell them all the time that life is all about their attitude. You can choose to be happy or you can choose to be miserable. We opened a fortune cookie one day that read “There are no bad days, just days that are better than others.”
Q: What’s the best advice someone ever gave you about being a mom?
A: The best advice that I have been given as a mom was right before my twin boys were born. Someone who recently had twins of her own shared with me that what got her through was a disciplined sleep schedule. Children from birth to about six years of age require an average of 10-12 hours of sleep a day. My children are now older, my youngest is nine. However, I still make sure they are in bed at a decent hour. If not, the next day can be very long day.
Q: What’s your least favorite part and most favorite part of being a mom?
A: My least favorite part of being a mom is the enormous amounts of homework we have each night. My favorite part of being a mom is when I hear my children laugh.