The Role of the Dental Assistant in Pediatric Dentistry

When kids first develop their baby teeth, they should ideally be seeing the dentist for their oral health. But because children often have different levels of anxiety related to the dentist, as well as different individual needs, it takes a special area of dentistry to be able to handle them.

Pediatric dentistry, as the field that works directly with these young children, involves caring for a patient’s teeth and the patient themselves. Dental assistants who work with children are truly using their full abilities. Learn more about the role dental assistants have in pediatric dentistry below.

Ease Patient Stress

The fear of the dentist’s office is a common one among many young children—primarily because they’re in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people. The anxiety and stress associated with this fear can make it incredibly difficult for the patient to even sit still, let alone have a procedure done. 

Pediatric dental assistants need to be well-acquainted with easing the worries of children. Whether it’s by distracting them or showing them that the dental instruments aren’t so scary, it’s crucial that they’re comfortable enough with kids to know how to establish trust.

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Patient Education

Pediatric dental assistants also need to be able to explain complex dental information in ways that younger individuals can still understand. Their role often includes showing children diagrams of how they should be brushing their teeth and demonstrating effective methods of doing so. This method of education is most effective at both getting the child to understand the process of brushing their teeth and helping them remember later at home.

The techniques shown to kids even need to be catered for that patient’s specific needs and oral health. So, those who have all of their baby teeth will often receive different advice than those still in the process of losing theirs.

One popular technique for working on children’s teeth in dental offices is the Tell-Show-Do method, which has been supported by research as a highly effective method for managing behavior.

Gather Useful Dental Information

A dental assistant’s role in pediatric dentistry also involves gathering useful information for the dentist. You would do this by taking dental x-rays, creating impressions of the teeth and measuring the gums.

While obtaining this data might be straightforward for those working with adults, children run the risk of moving, gagging and becoming increasingly intolerant of the tasks being performed. Pediatric dental assistants should remain calm as they try to soothe a child enough to proceed with the treatment.

Assist with Dental Procedures

Dental assistants work to establish a rapport with a patient, making it significantly easier to keep children calm while the check-up is underway. Frequent reassurances of “you’re doing great” and “almost done” help children bear with the momentary discomfort and help them get through the process without incidents. This trust also makes them more receptive to the cleaning process and, sometimes, even eager to learn more about it.

Additional Tips for Working With Pediatric Patients

When working with children, it’s important to adapt your communication style and demeanor to suit their needs. Follow the below tips to help children feel at ease when they come in to have their teeth worked on:

  1. Be kind: Approach each child with a friendly attitude to help them feel at home. If the child seems withdrawn or starts to cry, remember that their nervousness has nothing to do with you personally. Try to maintain a friendly and conscientious attitude as you work with the child. Even if they seem spacey or nonresponsive, they will appreciate your kindness. 
  2. Speak in simple terms: This is especially important for young children, who might have a limited understanding of why they need to get their teeth examined. Some kids might be able to read your tone, but medical jargon will be beyond the comprehension of most. If it is a child’s first time in the office, try explaining how important it is to go to the dentist.
  3. Be patient: Kids in the same age groups are highly diverse in their ability to rationalize, control their emotions and empathize with other perspectives. You might work with some who seem to have poor impulse control, but they might also have a disability that you are unaware of. It’s important to remain respectful of your patients even when they disobey or misunderstand commands. 
  4. Use visual or audio aids: Some kids learn better through visuals, whereas others are auditory learners. Having visual and auditory aids on hand will draw their attention and encourage them to relax.
  5. Demonstrate the procedure: If a child is afraid of an instrument, you might be able to convince them that there is nothing to be afraid of by showing them how it works. For example, drills make a loud noise that may frighten some children. If you demonstrate that the instrument sounds a lot louder than it feels, they might be less bothered by it and calm down.
  6. Expect noncompliance: Even the most experienced dental assistant will work with a difficult case occasionally. If a child expresses anger and refuses to do what you ask, know that you have still done an excellent job trying to help them, but it might be time to seek assistance. For many children, noncompliance is normal. In severe cases, it is okay to get the patient’s caretaker, who will attempt to talk to the child and get them to behave for you and the other staff.


Go to School With the American Institute of Dental Assisting

At the American Institute of Dental Assisting, the dental assistant career path is incredibly important to us. Between the drive of our administrators and the dedication of our professors, each member of the school aims to serve our students in the best ways possible. This is why in addition to solid education and training courses at our Phoenix dental assistant school, we also provide additional opportunities to find your niche and grow your interests.

You can become a pediatric dental assistant without additional certifications. Contact us online to learn more about beginning a promising new career.

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