O verflowing bags of Halloween loot—Tootsie Rolls, cherry-flavored lollipops and mini Snickers bars—hang around long after the holiday is over, a daily temptation.
Dr. Darnell Young won’t say what his favorite candy was as a kid, although he admits to having a sweet tooth. “I was always at the dentist, that’s all I have to say about that.” Perhaps regular visits were a drag at the time, but they did pave the way for his future as a pediatric dentist and his dedication to doing it right.
“I can go back and remember what I didn’t like when I was a kid and implement those ideas,” he says. “That’s how I take my approach.”
His methodology revolves in large part around making friends with his young patients first and foremost. If a child is going to cooperate during a dental exam, it helps to be a fan of the examiner.
Luckily for parents and kids, Dr. Young is a natural. With an easy smile and frequent, loud laugh, hanging out with him is immediately fun.
Young feels that too many in his profession treat children like they’re adults. In his practice at Elm Family Dental Associates in West Haven, the pediatric room is equipped with the goods necessary to win over kids of various ages. A stuffed Elmo might lie in the chair and show the kids there’s nothing to worry about. Beauty and the Beast and Sponge Bob are around, too, thanks to Young’s five-year-old daughter, who keeps him up to speed on what’s cool with her peers.
“I think where some dentists have a hiccup is they don’t interact with the kids,” he says. But, “if they don’t like you, you’re finished.” Which brings us to a pressing question: Ever been bitten?
That infectious laugh again, and Young answers, “Yes.” But it’s no big deal: “They say you’re not initiated into the pediatric family until you’ve been bitten and I have. It happens.”
It does, indeed, which is why with particularly anxious young children, Young suggests they sit in their Mom or Dad’s lap while he gets a good look at their teeth, explaining what’s going on the entire time so there are no surprises.
Young also emphasizes prevention, which is why he recommends bringing in children during their first year, sometimes even before their teeth have made an appearance. Parents who learn and implement good dental habits early—including babies not sleeping with bottles, and knowing that advertising campaigns boasting products with “100% fruit juice” that may still contain a ton of sugar—can help ensure good dental health later.
Beyond his seemingly effortless upbeat attitude, he readily imparts helpful tips: sticky candies (like those Tootsie Rolls) are the worst for your teeth; flossing at least once a day is a big yes, even for little kids; and parental supervision of brushing ensures children are actually doing a good job like they say they are.
On the flip side, it’s like pulling teeth to get him to talk about his roster of impressive accomplishments. The University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine grad won both community service and research recognition awards while he was there. He is also trained in dentistry for children with special needs, and is involved in local community service, regularly providing dental education and dental screenings at the New Haven Boys and Girls Club, among other volunteer gigs.
As for his patients at the office in West Haven, he’s looking forward to serving them for years to come, and is welcoming new mouths as well. He can name several “best parts” of working with children. Their honesty, for one thing, is both refreshing and hilarious.
He also likes the self-assurance a good visit instills, especially if a child started out nervous but left the appointment beaming, equipped with their complimentary toothbrush, flosser, toothpaste and stickers. Always stickers.
Plus, they leave with the knowledge necessary to take care of their teeth. “What we like to do is build confidence,” Young says.
With that, dental hygiene goes from tedious to terrific. And as for that Halloween candy? Not thoroughly enjoying it the night of would be criminal, but after that, brush your teeth, says Young. Then throw the rest away. There’s always next year.
Dr. Darnell Young
Elm Family Dental Associates
233 Elm Street, West Haven (map)
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.