CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A Chesterfield mom said her young daughter’s latest dental visit was disturbing. Tracy Sikes said she was surprised to learn some dentists use a little-known technique to calm a hysterical child down during a procedure called “hand over mouth.”
The practice is no longer taught in local dental schools, frowned upon by some leading dental groups and even considered abusive by some dentists. Still, it is considered an acceptable practice in Virginia.
Sikes 9-year-old-daughter Emily had an appointment at Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics of Virginia on Hull Street Road to cap a molar. Sikes said her daughter left the dentist’s office distraught, swollen and in pain.
“She was just crying,” Sikes said. “She was extremely upset.”
The mother admits dental work is sometimes uncomfortable and scary for children. So, she pressed her daughter in hopes of understanding more about what happened during the visit.
Sikes said, “She said that she was crying and screaming because it hurt when he was drilling.”
However, what her daughter told her next about how the dentist, Dr. Steven Lubbe, handled her pain and fear left mom stunned.
“She told me that the dentist clamped his hand over her mouth and leaned down and told her to stop crying,” Sikes said. “When I hear that an adult man has put his hand over my daughter’s mouth when she is in pain and upset, of course, that brings out the mamma bear.”
It prompted Sikes to share her daughter’s emotional selfie taken after the procedure and post about it on Facebook. That post got over 800 comments and more than 1,000 shares. It’s personal information Sikes said she wouldn’t normally share.
“In this case, I think people really needed to know. I was so shocked that anybody would do that,” she said.
Even more alarming to Sikes, she learned Emily was locked in. She said, “Her hands were already apparently being restrained by the assistants.”
Sikes began doing some research and learned the dentist was apparently using the technique called “hand over mouth.”
“Hand over mouth is a form of a dentist trying to get control of a child’s behavior,” explained Dr. Roger Wood.
Wood, a retired pediatric dentist says the method, which started back in the 1920s, was taught to dentists as a way to control an unruly child during a procedure.
“They’re crying so they put their hand over their mouth to muffle them and tell them they will take their hand off if they stop crying,” he said.
Wood, who served on the Virginia Board of Dentistry, is opposed to the technique.
“I totally am against it. I never used it,” Wood said. “I just feel like that there are better ways to do it.”
Wood is not alone in his beliefs. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry tells 8News hand over mouth is no longer a behavior guidance technique included in the AAPD’s best practices. It was eliminated from their clinical guidelines 16 years ago.
“That to me says no dentist should be using it,” said Sikes.
Yet the Virginia Department of Health Professions tells us, “The Virginia Board of Dentistry does not have a governing statue, regulation or guidance document which addresses the use of a ‘hand over mouth’ technique.”
Medical records show in 2006, Dr. Lubbe was accused of using excessive force in restraining a child. A physician noted bruising on the child’s cheeks, nose and neck. The case was later dismissed finding no clear evidence of excessive restraint. Sikes has filed her own complaint with the Department of Health Professions, the Office of Civil Rights and Chesterfield Police.
“The more people who hear about this, maybe someone will stop it,” Sikes said.
Chesterfield Police told us they consulted with the Commonwealth’s Attorney and it was felt the incident didn’t rise to the level of a crime. 8News reached out to Dr. Lubbe and the practice multiple times for an interview.
We were told in part, “Patient privacy laws do not allow us to comment on any specific situation, but our pediatric patients are offered a variety of calming options.”
8News asked specifically if the practice uses hand over mouth. All we were told was, “If a patient were to become upset, we immediately stop the cleaning or procedure and help them feel comfortable prior to moving forward or rescheduling.”
Dr. Wood believes if hand over mouth is used, the parent should be in the room.
“And you should explain it in full,” he added.
Sikes claims Emily’s father was kept in the waiting room and never consulted. The family was given a consent form to sign when they first started the practice. It mentions the dentist or assistant may “gently stabilize the child’s head to control leg movement.”
Sikes told 8News, “Nothing about this consent form would give me the hint that hand over mouth would be used. I think more parents need to be aware of hand over mouth.”
Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics of Virginia said parents are welcome to join their children in the exam room. The practice added they’ve been trusted by more than 20,000 patients for over 55 years.
View the dentist’s full statement here.