Part 3: How Sensory Adaptive Dental Experience Centers (SADE) Help Facilitate Respect for Child’s Boundaries

This blog is a part of a series on ‘Sensory Design for Pediatric Dental Clinics in India’. You can find Part 1 here & Part 2 here.
Small Bites Sensory Adaptive Dental Experience Center

Small Bites Sensory Adaptive Dental Experience Center

Sensory design in medicine is a relatively recent concept, although Small Bites Dental Clinic is one of the first to have pioneered it for children in India. Dental clinics and even hospitals in general have always been designed in keeping with the services offered. Come to think of it, the sterile environments and stark spaces found in hospitals came about from the need to calm patients, ensure there were no distractions; a sober, quiet place for people to wait their turn for appointments and doctor visits, procedures and other medical interventions. The need was therefore led by the medical practice and to provide environs that sustained such practice. Patients were viewed as individuals who had to adhere to the protocols of the space to receive necessary treatment.

At the turn of the century, things slowly began to change. It was noticed that patients who visited clinics and especially children, were oftentimes agitated during the wait for doctors. Anxiety increased and clinics began to be considered foreboding and uninviting. This feeling was especially enhanced for those with sensitive temperaments and those who had an inherent fear of doctors. It was observed and even researched that the place, its decor, design and surroundings played a big role in children’s comfort levels. Thus began the need to change the design of dental centers, understand the people who came to them, adapt the environs to their needs and make it a patient-led endeavor.

Small Bites Sensory Adaptive Dental Experience Centre

Sensory adaptiveness of children in the case of Small Bites Dental Experience Centre has shown a significant impact on little lives, through our years of practice. What began with experimenting and ensuring children were met with big smiles, colorful walls, coloring books, multimedia and toys, has gone on to include so much more. Today our clinic is designed with material that is sensorially adaptable to different types of people. From textured flooring, to transitioned lighting that can be dimmed and brightened based on the needs of little patients, versatility in media including sounds and visuals, to different kinds of toys; we have observed how children and adults alike relax and calm down immediately in our spaces. Our observations over 15 years have led us to believe and now further the mission in educating about safe spaces for children. Below are few of the things we’ve seen during our practice;

  • Calming the dysregulation – Every individual perceives the world according to their senses, and everyone’s threshold is very different. Children who are still adapting to the surroundings with age are especially vulnerable, more so when there is the added fear of doctors and machines and strange people doing things to them. Sensory Adaptive Dental Environments (SADE) help in making them adjust to the change in environments, and by doing so calm down the dysregulation they experience.
  • Introducing predictability – Children love routines. The predictability of such routines means that they know what’s coming or are prepared to experience it before it even happens. Sensory experience centers introduce a predictability to their dental interventions. By visiting spaces that calm them down, they begin to look forward to the experience despite the medical intervention, rather than fearing it or avoiding the experience altogether.
  • Regulating reactionary behaviors – Children can stress and often the way they exhibit the same is very different from adults. From crying and screaming before the checkup even begins, to aggression and hitting back out of anxiety, aimless uncontrolled running to constant fidgeting of limbs; anxiety, fear and discomfort shows up in many unpredictable behaviors. A space that is familiar to home, with all the materials that distract them, help children adjust faster which is very essential for complex medical procedures or even if general dental checkups have to be done. This is what a SADE center provides.

Dental care has to be child-led and one we have been practicing since several years. Our experience has taught us how every child is unique, accommodative and a good receptor of information provided they are listened to, their needs met, and their boundaries respected. At Small Bites, our dentists and medical staff ensure that pediatric dental care goes beyond treatment to making every child feel heard and seen.