I wrote a blog post a few months ago about the parent’s role in preparing their children for an upcoming dental visit. Today I will talk about the philosophy in our office about the role parents play during their child’s dental visit. We do not have a policy in our office that restricts parents from being with their child during their visits. We strongly encourage parents to be present during cleanings and exams. We feel parents play an extremely important role in their child’s oral health habits at home. During the cleaning and exam, we can discuss prevention and also discuss the current health of your child’s mouth. When parents are present, we can point out any problem areas or provide suggestions about how to better clean your child’s teeth. The exam is also a time to address any questions or concerns the patient or parent might have.
However; if your child requires dental treatment such as fillings or extractions, it is our experience that children do better when they have some separation from their parents. As a mother, I know my children behave differently for their teachers, coaches and other parents than they do for me. I also know as a mother that I want to be there for my children, and I want to support them through any unfamiliar situation. For these reasons, I like parents to be close enough that they can see their child but give enough distance that their child can focus on the dentist.
When we are performing dental treatments, we want 100 percent of our focus to be on the patient. At times, even the most well-intentioned parents can become a distraction to the assistant or the dentist, and we find ourselves splitting our focus between managing the parent and the patient. Furthermore, for a child to be able to listen well, only one person should be talking to them. If they are being given directions by a parent and the dentist, not only will they be overwhelmed, they most likely will listen to the more familiar voice of the parent. If parents are close by, we ask that they are “quiet observers.”
We are also very careful about word choice. We have many kid-friendly words we use to describe a procedure to a child. Our language is positive, and we speak calmly. Parents oftentimes have anxiety from their own experiences, and children are very perceptive to this. I have found that dental treatment on children is usually harder for the parent than the child. Many times, I have had parents thank me after treatment for allowing them to step away.
Another reason for parental separation can be the safety of the parent. Observing dental treatment can make some parents nauseated or even faint.
When working with children, we know there are exceptions, and we must be willing to adapt to the situation and needs of the child. There are certain children who will have a better experience if the parents are with them throughout the visit. The need for parental presence should be discussed between the dentist and parent and decided on a case-by-case basis. Providing the best experience for the child in the safest environment possible is always the priority.
Dr. Nicole Stoker is a pediatric dentist for The Smile Shop and is a mother of two.