Skip to main content

All Tied Up

Feb 15, 2024 11:23AM ● By Ann Bower Herren

Chloe was only four when she was strapped onto a cushioned board at her dentist’s office. Her mom was not with her but was back in the waiting room, as she wasn’t given the option to accompany her little girl. And now a dental procedure was about to begin- and Chloe was nervous and scared. She had just been secured in a papoose (a device often used by dentists to help restrain children) and to this day she remembers her fear.


Although many parents may be unfamiliar with it, the papoose board isn’t new; it’s been used by dentists since the mid-1950s as a behavior management tool. For patient safety, dentists use a myriad of behavior management techniques and tools to help see their patients through an experience that they physically resist. It’s an unpleasant fact that some children (and adult patients, such as special needs) can potentially hurt themselves during uncomfortable and unfamiliar dental care, and this is one option that can make necessary dental care possible.


Other Behavior Management options you may be more familiar with are conscious sedation, such as laughing gas (for children it’s often used in tandem with the papoose board) as well as general anesthesia, which comes with its own inherent set of risks (and why many parents opt for the papoose). 


Because of reported bad patient experiences the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, after a slew of studies starting in the 80s and 90s, established guidelines and best practices for papoose use. First, they recommend dentists have specific training beyond what they learn in dental school. They also require informed consent from the parent and that this conversation (not just an initialed medical form) should occur on a day other than treatment day. In addition, they’ve determined that parental presence is best, and can reduce anxiety with both child and parent. Finally, they call for a dentist to terminate a procedure as soon as possible if the child is not tolerating the papoose board well.


Using a dentist who was aligned with those recommendations, another local mom, Skylar Renee, had a completely different experience than Chloe and her mom. Her son Alexander, then 14 months old, was put in a papoose at his dentist’s office when he had to undergo a procedure to remove a lip tie (a piece of tissue inside your upper lip that attaches to your gums). She recounts, “He cried from being held down, but overall, he handled it very well. They did let me go back with him. The entire experience was reassuring for both me and Alexander. Knowing he was secure with the papoose board and safe, and him knowing that I was right there with him to comfort him”.


So, should you be concerned if your dentist suggests a papoose for certain dental treatments? No, a papoose board can be both effective and without trauma as well as the best viable option for big procedures, especially if you don’t want to use anesthesia.  But being familiar with it and having your dentist be both informative and caring can make the difference between a good experience and a bad one.

Get Our Newsletters
* indicates required
FredParent eletters
Read Our Digital Issue
From Our Partners