Why Would a Dentist Use Restraints on a Child?

I am expecting my first child and have been getting advice from a friend. One of the things she told me is never to use a dentist who does not allow me to go back with my child. She did that once and they put her son in restraints. Can you tell me why they would do that?


Dear Sally,

Pediatric Mouth Props
Pediatric Mouth Restraints


There are two type of pediatric restrains. The first is pictured up above. These are mouth restraints. They are designed to help keep your child’s mouth open when they are having dental work that includes a drill.

I know of a colleague that didn’t use this once. Unfortunately, the child bit down during his procedure, which caused the drill to go through his tooth and into gums. What should have been a simple filling ended up with the child needing a root canal treatment.  These type of restraints are absolutely essential.

papoose board
Papoose Board

The next type of restraints I would say are only rarely necessary.  Also, a dentist should ask a parent’s permission before using them. If your friend’s dentist didn’t I would say she was right to get rid of him.

Your question about why a dentist would use this is valid. Most pediatric dentists have techniques to keep children calm and cooperative. Every once in a while, however, there is a child who is so terrified that they won’t let the dentist near them and become destructive. If the procedure is not essential, normally you would just send the child home and then schedule another appointment for them, possibly using dental sedation if that is available.

However, sometimes a child has a dental emergency that has to be treated right then for their own safety. In those cases, I would understand a papoose board. Though they have been criticized, they actually feel more like a hug, sort of like a weighted blanket that closes. Every time a child has gotten into one when I have been present, they calmed right down and are able to get the dental work done with no trauma.

You are wise to be planning and learning everything you can now that you are a mother. One thing I would advise is to take your child to see a pediatric dentist as soon their first teeth come in. Don’t wait until they are older and there is a problem. You want their early experiences with a dentist to be positive ones so they are not afraid to go.

This blog is brought to you by Lafayette, LA Dentists Drs. Foreman and Thimmesch.