Parental Presence During Dental Treatment

As a pediatric dentist, I am always being asked by parents whether or not they should be in the room with their child during dental treatment. The quick answer is – it depends! My goal is to always work with parents so we are on the same team, trying to improve the oral health of their children with a unified approach. I never want any parent to feel uncomfortable with what we’re doing in our office, and I am extremely open to communication to make sure we’re all on the same page. So today I wanted to take some time to describe my philosophy in regard to parental presence during dental visits to help the parents in our practice understand my approach.

For new patient exams and subsequent wellcare appointments, especially for young children, we love having parents right next to their child during the visit. Many toddlers even sit on a parent’s lap for the appointment! As we’re doing our exam or cleaning, we can talk to the parent about brushing at home, diet, habits, and point out any findings we come across as we’re working. I am a very visual person, and I love showing parents exactly what I’m referring to in their child’s mouth or on an x-ray as we’re talking. I couldn’t do that if the parent wasn’t in the back with their child, so this is a time I definitely prefer having parents with us for the entire appointment! In addition, I love getting to know families as a whole, including parents, and I value this time that we all get to spend together in the office.

As a child gets older, we encourage independence if the child and parent are comfortable with them coming back for their cleanings by themselves. Most kids take great pride in their bravery and feel accomplished when they get through the whole visit on their own. A lot of parents also enjoy the quiet time in the reception area to read magazines or catch up on emails! If there are any issues, I will always ask the parent to come back at the end of the appointment so we can go over problem areas with brushing or point out a cavity if necessary.

If a patient does have a cavity or need any sort of dental work, this is when I sit down with parents to discuss our options. There are several schools of thought and a number of scientific studies about how parental presence in the treatment room affects the behavior of children. I will tell you that based on my experience, it really depends on the child. And that is why my first step is to ask the parent how they think their child will do, as the parent knows their child much better than I do! Many parents know that their child is a different person when they’re not around and will listen better if they are on their own. Others know that their child is extremely fearful of being without their parent, and we would never get anything done if the parent left the room.

My general recommendation is for the first time needing treatment, to try and see how the child does without the parent in the room. Even if the child is not nervous, usually the parent has some level of anxiety about the procedure, and kids can so easily pick up on these emotions. Without the parent in the room, my assistant and I get the full attention of the child to direct them through the procedure. We are specially trained on how to manage children during these situations and we focus on distracting the child with specific conversations or the TV above their heads, helping them breathe well with the nitrous oxide/laughing gas, and moving quickly to complete the procedure as painlessly and easily as possible.

If the parent remains in the room for treatment, I ask that they be our partner in completing the procedure and helping comfort their child. We ask parents to try and play a passive role in managing behavior and focus more on being there for moral support. It is important to me that my patients grow to trust me and I appreciate parents allowing me to try to achieve that!

As always, if you ever have any questions or concerns about this topic, or anything in regards to your child’s dental care, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Give the office a call at (860) 347-4681 or shoot me an email at I am committed to providing excellent care for your children, with you on my team!

Erica Pitera, DMD
Pediatric Dentist + Owner

Sweet Tooth Pediatric Dentistry
583 Saybrook Road
Middletown, CT 06457
(860) 347-4681