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There are ways to make children's dental visits easier on everyone.

3 effortless behavior guidance strategies for pediatric dental patients

Feb. 20, 2024
Using these tips from a pediatric patient expert about what works for her young patients will make dental appointments with youngsters much more pleasant.

The focus for National Children’s Dental Health Month 2024 this February is on raising awareness about the oral health crisis of tooth decay, while also striving to improve patient experiences, especially for our most vulnerable pediatric population. This involves understanding and addressing different factors that can influence their behavior. 

Effective behavior guidance strategies can build trust, reduce anxiety, and promote cooperation during dental appointments. Throughout my 17-year career specializing in pediatric care, I've cherished caring for the most petite to the most generously sized mouths. These are my three strategies for a fun, safe, and efficient experience. 

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1. Offer fidget toys for stress relief 

We all love toys, but I especially love fidget toys. Fidget toys are handheld tools that increase focus and provide a positive outlet for releasing energy. Examples include stress balls, pop-its, spinner toys, and squishes. Sensory processing disorders (SPD) affect 5%–16% of children, with an increased incidence in pre-term and C-section children. One study found 84% of pre-term babies and 80% of children delivered by cesarean section received an SPD diagnosis.1  

For those with SPD, fidget toys can provide stress relief during a dental appointment. With this knowledge, it’s important to include a check box for SPD diagnosis on your medical history form, and to incorporate assessment questions related to when and how the child was delivered. If a child has signs of SPD, offer a basket of different fidgets to address their specific sensory needs. 

2. Use a calm voice

Many believe using a high-pitched or stern tone will lead to patient compliance. The opposite is true: providers should maintain a calm and even tone of voice with pediatric patients. For good communication, the iatrosedative technique can be used. This systematic approach aims to make a patient calm through the dental hygienist’s behavior, attitude, and communication.2  

Maintaining a calm and soothing tone and using reassuring language demonstrates empathy and creates a sense of security for the child. Also, genuinely acknowledge the child’s concerns, attend to their nonverbal cues, and practice effective listening. 

3. Get back to basics: Use dental books

One of my favorite recommendations for parents and guardians before their dental visit is to view dental books that depict a dental appointment in a positive manner. Providing children with dental books featuring images of dental offices, equipment, instruments, and positive events can familiarize them with what to expect. 

You can list book recommendations on the dental office website, in newsletters, and on social media, or make them available in the reception for waiting patients. Some of my favorites include Smiles Por Vida and Daniel Goes to the Dentist. 

Tailor your approach

Behavior guidance strategies need to be tailored to each patient. At times, multiple strategies may need to be implemented during an appointment, and it's important to recognize that what works for one child may not be effective for another. As dental hygienists, we can incorporate behavior guidance strategies to create a successful and stress-free dental appointment for children, parents, and clinicians.  

NCDHM all month long at ADHA

National Children’s Dental Health Month is great motivation to explore new strategies for your pediatric clinical practice. The American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) is shining a spotlight on pediatric topics all month long. Learn more from the ADHA. 

From volunteer opportunities, parent guides, and Medicaid/CHIP coverage with family resources, to journal research articles and our role in uncovering abuse, neglect, and trafficking, find new ways to expand your care strategies for our youngest patients.


  1. Ptak A, Miękczyńska D, Dębiec-Bąk A, Stefańska M. The occurrence of the sensory processing disorder in children depending on the type and time of delivery: a pilot study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(11):6893. doi:10.3390/ijerph19116893
  1. Friedman N, Wood GJ. (1998). An evaluation of the iatrosedative process for treating dental fear. Compendium Contin Educ Dent. 1995;19(4):434–442.

An Chih (Angela) Do, MEd, RDH, MAADH, FADHA, is the founder of @AsianAmericanRDH and cofounder of @DentalHygieneSpark. As an immigrant and first-generation student, she knows the impact that education can make. This drives her to empower dental professionals with the tools to care for their patients. She is a speaker and hands-on laser instructor and has been practicing in pediatric dentistry for more than 16 years. She shares her tips and experience as @thepediatricrdh. Contact her at [email protected].