Behavior Guidance in Pediatric Dentistry

Taking our children to the dentist can be one of two things and sometimes both.  In rare, perfect moments our children will receive several kudos about how adorable and smart they are, they will impress the doctor with their above average wit and demeanor.  We will smile humbly at just how adorable our little human is.  The more realistic version plays out as they’re sinking in the chair as far as they can and refusing to open their mouth -OR- the Mom’s trying to talk them down like they’re a ticking time bomb and we’re the only reinforcement SWAT called in. 

So, what are we doing wrong and how can we, as parents provide education, understanding and comfort to our children to help eliminate dental anxiety and barriers?

Don’t worry Mom’s, you’re actually not doing anything wrong however, it’s a matter of redirecting our understanding and educating ourselves on behavior management and support for our children and their dentist!

Most skilled pediatric dentists put forth the effort to train themselves and their staff in Behavior Guidance Techniques (BGT’s).  These techniques vary from “tell-show-do”, voice control, positive reinforcement, distraction and parental presence or absence.  It is quite a magical experience to observe a dentist who’s skilled in this area redirect a child’s anxiety or fear, and turn it into trust, compromise and compliance.  

This is why it is at the upmost importance to find a local pediatric dentist for your child, rather than taking them to the general dentist.  Most pediatric offices are catered to CHILDREN.  Almost every aspect of their office offers a kid-friendly approach to their practice from the reception area, paint color on the walls, toys, movies or music, highly trained staff in BGT’s and the actual approach and technique throughout the exam and/or procedures.

Have you gone to a pediatric dental office who suggests you wait in the reception area while they take your child back, alone, for their exam or procedure?  This made my heart sink a little the first time I heard it. However, after redirecting my own anxiety and taking a moment to understand this technique, it’s quite possibly one of the smartest solutions I’ve heard of.

We all want to protect our children and be their Mama Bear when they’re scared or hurt.  What we don’t realize as parents is that in most cases, we are actually hindering our children’s ability to overcome their fears because we ARE always by their side, and they know it.

Have you ever heard of the phrase, “children behave better when Mom is not around”?  In most circumstances this is very true.  Rather than diving into that topic, here’s a great blog on why that happens,


Additionally, relating to that topic, our children find comfort in us.  They can let it all go with us.  After understanding that, it makes it easier to understand why our children would behave better without us sitting next to them in their dental chair. This also provides a renowned sense of independence for our little sprouts and may effectively intact ownership of their oral hygiene education and responsibilities.  Outside of the dental office we can practice positive reinforcement to alleviate dental fear through education and fun hygiene exercises with our children. 

  • Brush your teeth together.  Make your brushing routine fun and effective with your child.
  • Positively reinforce how great their dentist is!  When your child hears your praise, they’ll want to follow your lead.  
  • Before a dental appointment, positively reinforce excitement to see the dentist. Remind your child of how nice they are, how comfortable the office is and how nice their staff was.  Remember to celebrate their excellence or small wins like a clean bill for no cavities!
  • Find ways to remind your child how relatable their dentist is, so they remember their dentist is just as human as they are.  “Don’t forget to tell Doctor _____ about your new bike!  He loves riding his bike and I bet he will love hearing about yours!”

We may not be perfect parents however, we are THE perfect parent for our child.  There is no right or wrong way to choosing a dentist for your child.  Nevertheless, it is absolutely okay to be picky and hold higher expectations for your child’s provider, as you should, for their dental development is quite literally in their hands.  

It is also okay to let go Mama, trust in your child’s dentist because their top priority is your child and their treatment, development and education.  Take the opportunity to get to know your children’s dentist to maintain a positive relationship and experience for yourself, your child and their dentist.