Should I come back for my child’s dental appointment, or should I stay in the lobby?

This is one of the most common questions we receive as dentists, and team members at our pediatric dental office.  Our top priority is making both the parents and the children feel as comfortable as possible during each dental appointment.  We want the dentist to be a FUN place to be, a place where children are excited to come and learn how important it is to have healthy teeth as they grow into adulthood. 

The question of parents accompanying their children for their dental visits can be tricky as parenting has changed quite a bit over the years, and many parents want to accompany their children for all dental visits.  The dentists and team members at our pediatric dental office allow parents to accompany their children for most of the dental appointments – most importantly new patient appointments and cleaning appointments.  We happily want the parents back during these visits as you provide very important information about your child’s medical and dental history.  We also want to make sure we answer all of your questions during these cleaning appointments.

Dental visits where your child will be having dental treatment/work completed is where the question of accompanying your child is more complicated.  It’s important to think of these visits like other times when you’ve taken your child to a swimming lesson, or to school to learn a new instrument, or to the hospital to have ear tubes placed or tonsils removed.  In most of these situations, children do better when they can focus only on the person who is trying to teach them something new, or perform a procedure which is new for that child. If there are distractions, then the child feeds off of those distractions (ie.  a mother who is nervous and sitting next to their child, a sibling who is curious and trying to watch the procedure, or a parent who is asking the child questions while the doctor is trying to get the child’s attention), and has a hard time deciding who they should listen to.  These distractions make the appointment more difficult for the child because they do not know if the should listen to their mother, the doctor, or their sibling. 

While we do allow parents to accompany their child during a dental visit with nitrous oxide (laughing gas), we strongly recommend that you place your trust in your doctor and allow your child to focus on the procedure so that they have a more positive experience.  Our team members will update you as often as you would like during the procedure as we know parents are just as nervous (if not more) than their child(ren).  As Dr. Elizabeth Miller relates, “If you are able to place your trust in us and our experience, try to let your children come back on their own for visits where they need dental treatment.  We find when that happens, they’re really able to focus on the doctor instead of being distracted by their moms, dads, or siblings that are in the room.  Most of the time they do amazing and the parents are really happy.  Not only does the child do well, but they didn’t have to watch a potentially difficult procedure being completed on their child.”

Some dental visits require oral sedation or general anesthesia.  At these appointments the child is brought back without the parent or guardian so that our team can place all of our attention on your child, just like in a hospital outpatient setting.  Our team members will update you as often as you would like during these procedures as well.

Our group of pediatric dentists have all spent two extra years of training in pediatric dentistry after our four years of dental school.  A big portion of these two extra years is spent studying behavior management in children – in order to help us learn what works best for managing different situations/behaviors in parents and their children during dental appointments.  Our team loves this aspect of our profession because it is both challenging and rewarding all at the same time.  When we are able to understand the parent and child’s needs, we can help serve them to the best of our ability and in a more comfortable environment for the family and our team. 

Thank you to all of our families who have trusted us with their precious children.  We want your experience at the dentist to be the best it can possibly be, which includes building a strong bond of trust between the dentist, the guardians, and the children.  Most importantly, we want your child’s dental visits to be FUN and educational, so that they value the importance of a healthy smile into adulthood.

Elizabeth Cook Miller, D.D.S., M.S. is a pediatric dentist at Atkins, Maestrello, Miller & Associates Pediatric Dentistry in Richmond, VA. She is a new mother, active runner and her favorite movie is "Finding Nemo".

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