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The lighter side of dentistry

The Baltimore Sun

The folks who work with the Berg Dental Group in Forest Hill are always looking for ways to make their patients relax.

On a recent afternoon, about 25 employees at the dental clinic gathered in their break room for a class on magic and balloon sculpting.

For more than an hour, the employees watched as Jeff Teate, the balloon man, showed them how to lighten up a visit to the dentist.

"I was terrified of the dentist when I was a kid," said Teate, 42, of Aberdeen. "I wanted to do something to help kids become more relaxed when they go to the dentist. It has been proven that many health conditions can be traced back to poor dental hygiene."

Teate, who does business as Nothin' Up My Sleeve Entertainment, gave the crowd of dentists, hygienists, technicians and support staff a quick introduction and a list of tricks.

"You don't want to use these tricks as distractions," said Teate, who wore a red shirt and a tie covered with playing cards. "You want to use them as a reward or to relax someone."

He performed the tricks, told the employees how they were done, and then gave them a chance to try.

Joel Berg helped with a card trick. Dressed in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, Berg chose a card, and Teate told him the card he selected. "You cheated," Berg said jokingly after Teate selected the correct card.

Berg, who has been a dentist for about 40 years, saw Teate's class as one way to make a visit to the dentist fun, he said.

Berg does a show for the kids and for the parents, whom he allows in the room with the kids, he said.

"The secret to dealing with kids is to love them," he said. "When kids come to see me, I dress up in costumes sometimes, I give them toys, and I have incentives to encourage them. The magic act just gives us one more way to entertain the kids."

Teate, also known as Mr. Twister, and his wife, Laura, 40, who helps teach the class and performs magic and balloon sculpting, then passed out balloons and pumps. He taught the group how to make a flying mouse out of one long skinny balloon.

Class members twisted and turned the balloons to make their shapes and then snapped their tails to make them fly around the room. For some of the budding balloon-builders, the flying mouse was a cinch, while others found it challenging. One woman popped her balloon, while another blew hers up too fast.

Teate was invited to conduct his class because Berg's office is always looking for new ways to help patients relax, said Goldie Berg, the office administrator and wife of dentist Joel Berg.

"We try to be on the cutting edge of everything," said Berg, of his dental group. "Balloons and magic make everyone smile. We see a lot of children with preconceived fears about seeing the dentist. We want to try to make seeing the dentist fun and relaxed."

The dental office planned to integrate the new tricks into their routine in coming weeks. But first they have to plan their presentation, Goldie Berg said.

"We have to find the right containers for the balloons and use the same ones in every office," she said. "We want it to be a very natural part of our office visits. The great thing is that even if we mess up, it will still be funny, because we aren't professional magicians."

The dentists won't be making balloon animals as a rule. Joel Berg, who dresses up as Mickey Mouse, has his own clowning way with children, so he plans to have the hygienists make balloon sculptures and do magic tricks for his patients, Goldie Berg said.

Rebekah Felts, Berg's dental assistant, said she is ready. She has been practicing the tricks and even tried one on her children at home.

"The best thing about the tricks we learned is that most of them are fairly easy to learn and do," said Felts, who has worked in Berg's office for the past five years. "We had a lot of fun in the class because we got to laugh at the dentists for a change."

The magic tricks are perfect time fillers, she said.

"There are many times when the doctor has to leave the room to talk to a parent, and these tricks give us easy things we can do to occupy the child during this time," she said.

The Berg Dental Group isn't the first dental office where Teate has taught his magic and balloon sculpting class, he said. He started when a dentist asked him to come and teach it at the Thomas P. Hinman Dental Meeting, held each year in Atlanta, Georgia.

He taught the class to about 50 dentists who seemed to enjoy it, Teate said. The key was getting them to step out of their serious shoes and into their fun shoes, he said.

"Once I got them to step away from their serious side, it was a lot of fun," Teate said. "They were all laughing and having a good time. People think that doctors and dentists have good hand-eye coordination. After watching them, I say, 'Nah, they don't.' "

Since the Hinman meeting, Teate has taught his class at conventions for the American Dental Association, the Minnesota Dental Association, the Ontario Dental Association, and the Pacific Dental Association, he said.

The classes are a cinch, but getting used to the perks has been hard for Teate, who makes his living conducting the classes and performing at local restaurants.

"At one convention they wanted to pick us up at the airport in a limousine," he said. "They treat the guest speakers like royalty. It's really weird."

Teate and his wife each receive between $1,000 to $3,000 a day for teaching the class - which is 3 hours long, two hours of magic and one hour of balloon sculpting. The class is accepted as continuing education for the dentists. It falls under the patient management category, Teate said.

"When the dentists are given a choice between my class, during which they laugh for three hours, or a class about a technical dental concept, they like my class," he said.

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