Parents in the Dental Operatory

by Dr. Sanjukta Mohanta BSc., DDS


Should parents stay or should they go? Does your office have a policy about parents being in the treatment room with the child? Decades ago, it was recommended that parents stay out of the dental operatory as it was believed that a parent’s anxiety would be transferred to the child.1 Times have changed and so has the evidence. Is it time to let parents stay?

A recent systematic study showed that there was no difference in behaviour of children when parents were in the operatory.2 It recommended better designed trials, so I started my own trial and invited parents in. I was pleasantly surprised that not only did it make the children and parents happier, the dental team was happier too!

Parents in the operatory have many benefits. A parent can hold a child’s hand, reassure them, remind them to breathe and encourage them to follow instructions. Just having a parent in the room makes the child feel that nothing bad will happen to them. When parents are in the room, they can see how caring we are with their children and can see how challenging it is to do treatment when children are difficult to manage. When parents are left in the waiting room and hear their children crying, they may feel we are mistreating their children which makes them lose trust in us. It is better to have parents in the operatory to help with behaviour management so the team to focus on the treatment.3

During a child’s initial visit, welcome parents into the operatory to build the relationship with the family and to educate them about the diagnosis, treatment plan and prevention.3 It is during this appointment when you can discuss your policy on parents in the operatory.

You can create some guidelines for parents who want to stay in the room. This can include asking parents to stay in their seats as supporters; letting them know that the dental team will instruct the child; giving them a sheet of “safe words” they can use with their child such as, “sleepy juice instead of needle;” stating that parents must not get upset with their children; and letting them know you may ask them to leave if you think the child will do better without them.3

Most parents want to be in the operatory and most children want their parents to be there. Allowing family members in the room is part of patient centred care and improves the patient experience. Why not allow patients to decide if they want others in the room? Patients, including young ones and their parents, appreciate autonomy. This helps build a positive relationship with the family which leads to trust, loyalty and better treatment outcomes.

Still wondering if parents in the operatory cause trouble or even double? To help you decide if parents should stay or if they should go, just ask the child.


  1. Baker, L. (1995, April 24). Parents in the dental treatment room….yes or no? Two UB dentists say “yes” and present guidelines for others. Parents In The Dental Treatment Room….Yes Or No? Two UB Dentists Say “Yes” And Present Guidelines For Others – University at Buffalo. Retrieved November 21, 2022, from
  2. Passos De Luca, M., Massignan, C., Bolan, M., Butini Oliveira, L., Aydinoz, S., Dick, B., & De Luca Canto, G. (2021). Does the presence of parents in the dental operatory room influence children’s behaviour, anxiety and fear during their dental treatment? A systematic review. International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry, 31(3), 318–336.
  3. MacLean, J. (2015, November). Parents in the operatory: Friend or foe? by Jeanette MacLean, DDS. Dentaltown. Retrieved November 21, 2022, from

About the Author

Dr. Sanjukta Mohanta is a general dentist who graduated from the University of Toronto in 1999. She practices in Brampton, Ontario. She can be reached by email: