While 7-year-old Ethan Bellamy lies back in a dental chair and watches a movie projected onto the ceiling, Dr. Adam Goodwin and Brett Ryan pretend to be chasing bugs in his mouth while they actually shoot, drill and install two stainless steel crowns.
“Look at that orange one,” Goodwin said, as he injected anesthetic that Ryan blocked Ethan from seeing with his hand while pretending to keep bugs from crawling up into his eyes.
“Is that a purple one I see, too?” said Ryan, a senior at Georgia Health Sciences University College of Dental Medicine.
Ethan was among 70 pupils from Wheeless Road Elementary School who on Friday went to the dental school for free care as part of the national Give Kids a Smile campaign. The program targets kids who might not have regular access to oral health care.
“The biggest barrier to getting kids, even those who have insurance, into the dentist is transportation,” said Dr. Connie Drisko, the dean of the College of Dental Medicine. “Even though a lot of these kids have Medicaid or PeachCare or some kind of insurance, the parents just can’t take off of work to get them here.”
So the school turns to the annual event to try to get the kids at least one visit. The kids were screened last week at the school and as they hop off the bus are broken into groups of those who just need a cleaning and those who need more extensive work. Being a pediatric dentist takes two to three years more training after dental school to learn some of the nuances of dealing with often-anxious children, said Dr. Tara Schafer, the interim chairwoman of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry.
“Behavior management is probably the big key,” she said. “You have to be able to talk them through what they need to have done.”
It also means employing a little misdirection to avoid frightening the child with what is actually happening.
“We don’t say shot and we don’t say needle,” Schafer said.
Goodwin, a pediatric resident at the college, projects the movie on the ceiling above and slightly behind the chair so that Ethan keeps his eyes on it and not on the instruments approaching his mouth.
“Cars,” Goodwin said.
“Cars 2,” Ethan said.
Goodwin and Ryan tell Ethan they are blowing air and water into his mouth because the bugs don’t like it and they are suctioning out the bugs they “wriggled” out of his teeth.
“There are some holes they made in your tooth,” Goodwin said, and he is “going to put a silver hat on it.”
He and Ryan keep up a constant chatter about the bugs as they work in Ethan’s mouth while Ethan laughs and points out scenes in the movie. Goodwin said he would like to get a grant to provide more equipment to keep kids distracted in the chair.
“It’s a game changer,” he said.
Even though they get the bugs this time, Ethan is told he needs to brush regularly and floss.
“It’s going to get the bugs out from in between the teeth because that’s where they like to hide,” Goodwin said.
After the crowns are in, Ethan tells them they feel “pretty cool.” Then he hops up to look at them in the mirror.
“I can’t wait to go home and show my dad,” he said.
Goodwin writes him a note to take home with him. It says, “Ethan was awesome.”