Imagine yourself as a small child sitting in a dentist’s chair. The chair is whizzing up and down, there are bright lights pointed at you, and a couple of adults with their faces half-covered are staring down at you with all kinds of noisy contraptions in their hands, poking at your teeth. It can be scary.
But what if you could be transported to a world where the dentist’s chair is a magical place, and those scary instruments have been turned into something fun?
Dr. Sónia Santos is a pediatric dentist in Lisbon, Portugal. With 20 years of professional experience, she has found a delightful way to ease children’s anxiety.
“I want to help children overcome their fear of the dentist, so in my storybook, I transform the scary dental instruments into animals,” Dr. Santos explained.
With the obstacle of fear out of the way, dental visits can be pleasant, and children are open to learning good dental habits and experiencing good health.
The Story of Becoming a Dentist
Dr. Santos came from a family of engineers.
“My father’s a civil engineer, and my mother is a chemical engineer. So I see myself as the smile engineer of the family,” Dr. Santos said.
Her journey to pediatric dentistry followed a unique path that began at a museum.
“When I was a teenager, I was in New York and went to the children’s museum. There was a special exhibition there about children’s psychology. I really loved the exhibition, and I felt something at that moment,” she recalled.
This museum visit focused her interest in the medical field. Then, taking her mother’s advice, she narrowed that focus down to dentistry. Finally, she combined her mother’s advice and her love for children, and a career in pediatric dentistry was born.
“You know how mothers are always right. I have to thank her because I really love my work,” Dr. Santos said.
Outside Medicine, Dr. Sónia Santos interests are art and skiing.
“I have been skiing since I was a child, and what we learn as children stays with us forever,” she said.
The Story of Pediatric Dentistry
Dr. Santos cherishes her role in improving children’s lives, both physically and psychologically.
“With pediatric dentistry, I can combine the medicine with the psychology of children’s behavior management that is so important during the dental visits. Treating children is very challenging,” she explained.
Treating children requires a lot of patience. Some are scared, while others may sit in a chair and refuse treatment. But with her 20 years of experience, helping children overcome these issues comes naturally to Dr. Santos.
“I always tell children, ‘You know, adults are complicated people.’ They can be scared, too,” she said.
One aspect of pediatric dentistry that Dr. Santos finds most fulfilling is facial orthopedics, a special opportunity to make a significant difference in a child’s life.
“When there is a bite problem that involves not only the teeth, but the maxillary bones as well, and we treat these, it’s called facial orthopedics. We treat the malocclusion of the maxilla while the child is still growing. Without treatment, the child can develop facial asymmetry, difficulty chewing and even difficulty breathing. If the child can’t breathe correctly, not enough oxygen will reach the brain cells. As a result, the child has difficulty concentrating and performing well in school,” Dr. Santos explained.
She treats this malocclusion with appliances, braces, and enlarging the maxilla. Once the treatment is complete, the child can breathe correctly and be more comfortable and healthy.
The Story of The Dreams Chair
A Book to Take the Fear Away
What we learn as children stays with us forever. This is why Dr. Santos is concerned about helping children overcome their fear of dental visits. To further this goal, she wrote a children’s book called A Cadeira dos Sonhos, or translated, The Dreams Chair. In her book’s world, the dentist’s chair is a source of adventure, and those scary dental instruments areanimals like giraffes.
“Yes, a child’s dental visit is professional, serious treatment. But it should be a nice experience for the child. My philosophy is that it has to be something fun for the child, such as going to the zoo, a museum, or even a wonderland. You imagine that chair, with all its arms and buttons and going up and down. To me, it sounds like lots of fun! So that’s why I wrote The Dreams Chair,” Dr. Santos said.
The book does not miss the opportunity to provide practical information, too.
“It also has some recommendations for adults, educators and parents to teach children how to brush their teeth. It also promotes a healthy diet and what to do before dental visits,” she explained.
Dr. Santos sees her book as a valuable resource that she has made available for free to everyone. She wrote the book with another author, a patient that became a friend.
“My book is free to download, and our national reading plan actually recommends reading it. It’s free because I didn’t want any profit. It’s my present to all children,” she said.
The Story of a Rewarding Career
Dr. Santos was elected South Portugal representative of Portuguese Dental Association in 2012 and was a member of the Orthodontic teaching department of Egas Moniz Higher Education Dental School in Lisbon for five years. Dr. Santos won the Orthodontic prize by Jornal dentistry in 2015. In addition to her book, she authored several articles in professional journals, magazines and she is an author in one of the Portuguese national newspapers. She enjoys the best of both worlds—a combination of teaching and private practice. Most recently, the Board of Pediatric Dentistry invited her to be the South Portugal Director.
“But the most rewarding part of being a pediatric dentist, of course, is to see children’s smiles and to actually make their futures better. I teach them how to brush their teeth and eat a healthy diet with less sugar,” Dr. Santos explained.
Dr. Santos volunteers with a program from Colgate called Bright Smiles, Bright Futures.
“That’s an oral health program, one of the most successful oral health programs in the world. We provide free oral health education and free treatments in some countries. I go to schools and teach children about brushing and healthy eating,” Dr. Santos added.
The Story Continues
“The future is digital and the one day treatments like the treatments with veneers. I treat the whole family and as I am a perfectionist, being able to design the veneers just as we want in the computer, it is really rewarding,” said Dr. Santos.
Dr. Santos’ primary goal is to make the future better for children.
“Children are the future. I’m helping them, and looking at their smiles is the best reward. It is a privilege to work with children and to make their lives healthier and happier,” Dr. Santos said.
Her book and her work with children are an investment in the future because, as Dr. Santos says, “What children learn, they will keep it forever.”