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Name: Dr.  Eli Wagshall, DDS

Business Name: Wagshall Pediatric Dentistry

Years in Business: 14

Number of Employees: 11

Address: 2525 Nostrand Avenue


Is it hard being a pediatric dentist?

It’s challenging, but it’s also fun.  Back when I was in school, I listened to a lecture by a pediatric dentist at NYU, and I said to myself, “this is what I want to do.” I had the opportunity to do other things, but I truly prefer this specialty. I love working with kids.

What’s the secret for keeping kids calm in the dentist chair?

I try to build pleasant associations with the dentist’s office.  One way I do this is by avoiding doing invasive work on kids who have just come in for a cleaning. The focus is just on giving them a good time so they want to come back. When they do need work, I try to steer them away from their fear and make them as comfortable as possible.

Your colorful décor must add to the fun factor.

Yep! We moved to this office in 2007, and we hired a designer to help us come up with child-friendly rooms and touches like themed wallpaper. We have jungle, music, ocean, and zoo rooms, and there are video screens in each room to keep the kids entertained.  

How do you deal with difficult patients?

It’s all about behavior management. A lot of the kids we see would be sent to the OR by other practices to be sedated for certain procedures, but we work well with them here. Kids know how to manipulate adults, and they sense when you’re afraid of them. You have to be very patient with them and also very honest. Kids know right away when you’re lying.   

What can parents do to make that visit a little easier?

Walk them through it at home. Talk to them about what will happen, and prepare them as much as possible.  Don’t be negative and don’t project your own fears on your children. The more you build positive associations with the dentist, the better the foundation you will build.

What’s the right age for the first dentist visit?

Well, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends by age one. While we don’t usually get patients that young, we do see children as young as 18 months.   We recently had a toddler who needed six fillings. I recommend bringing them in as early as possible. You don’t want to wait for problems.

What’s the worst mistake parents make in regard to their children’s dental health?

Not including regular dental care as part of their child’s overall health care. Some people let their fears get in the way of the bi-annual visits their children should have. Another really bad mistake is letting kids take their bottles to bed. ECC (Early Childhood Carries, also known as Baby Bottle Syndrome) is an aggressive process that is not stopped by filling a couple of teeth. You have to get the bacteria out of the mouth and remove the bottle completely. They key is to maintain the baby teeth; otherwise, the problem will spread to the adult teeth once they come in.

In what other ways can parents protect their children’s teeth?

Well, in addition to regular brushing, flossing and limiting junk food, I’d say be mindful of the frequency of noshing. That’s something I believe does not get enough attention. Many parents don’t realize that snacks like potato chips and pretzels can leave bacteria on the teeth, causing the mouth to become acidic. If this sort of noshing is done too frequently, kids will develop reflux and you can see their teeth eroding. The parents may know that the child has reflux and holes in his teeth, but they may not understand the association. For me as a dentist, it’s pretty obvious.

Do today’s parents ask more questions than parents from previous generations?

Parents today are very involved and want to understand the process. They want to have every step explained to them; they want to understand.  When I first opened my practice, we were able to do what had to be done without talking and justifying it. Now, I show parents all the x-rays and where every cavity is, and I guide them through what their child needs. Once they understand the situation, they are almost always on board with whatever it is that we need to do.

How do you keep up to date with new advances in dentistry?

I take continued education classes – 15 credits a year in mandated classes for my specialty.  I also attend lectures frequently and pick the speakers’ brains to find out as much as I can. There are so many new materials that have come out since I began practicing. One of those is silver diamine fluoride, which stops cavities in their tracks and is used instead of fillings for smaller cavities. Another development is sealants to prevent decay from happening.  Old-school materials are often replaced with newer materials that are bioactive. I think we’re on the right track.

Have you had any memorable patients?

I work with a number of special needs kids, and they make each day worthwhile. One patient who has a heart condition is the happiest kid alive. Just watching her brings me so much nachas. Another memorable patient of ours, who is now 18, had a cleft palate.  We literally watched her grow from a child to an adult. The top cleft palate center is in NYU. I was a resident there, and stayed in touch – they send me patients. The key with special needs is to optimize care for their specific condition and yet not treat them differently than any other patient. Watching these kids develop is amazing.

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