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Most kids don’t look forward to visiting the dentist. A pediatric dentist, though, specializes in dental care for children—and strives to keep kids engaged and excited about their smiles so they can’t wait to come back.
What is a Pediatric Dentist?
To put it simply, a pediatric dentist is a dentist who specializes in the oral health of children from infancy through adolescence. Also called periodontists, these dentists continue their education after completing their general dentistry courses to expertly prevent, diagnose, and manage dental problems in children.
Why Do You Need a Pediatric Dentist?
Children don’t develop their first set of teeth—also known as baby teeth or primary teeth—until they are about six months old. Around the age of six or seven, those teeth begin to fall out as their adult, or secondary, teeth begin to come in.
Some believe that because those baby teeth will fall out and be replaced, proper dental care doesn’t matter as much until the secondary teeth have come in. That couldn’t be further from the truth. A pediatric dentist studies extensively to understand and maintain the health of a child’s gums, teeth, and jaw as they grow. This includes:
- Teaching children about good oral hygiene habits early on in life
- Completing regular cleanings and fluoride treatment
- Preventing issues like dental caries and pediatric periodontal disease (gum disease)
- Observing any signs of disease that can present in oral health, such as asthma, hay fever, and even ADHD
- Monitoring new teeth coming in
- Identifying tooth misalignment early and developing a treatment plan for straightening them
What Kind of Training Do Pediatric Dentists Have?
Pediatric dentists must complete specialized training to be qualified for their work. First, they must complete and receive their undergraduate bachelor’s degrees in an applicable field, such as biology, chemistry, human anatomy, physics, or physiology.
Then, they must complete dental school—a process that takes around four years. They must also pass the required dental certification exams, either for their Doctor of Dental Surgery license (DDS), or their Doctor of Dental Medicine license (DMD).
Finally, they enroll in their residency program, where they can choose their specialty. A pediatric dentist, of course, would then complete their residency in pediatric dentistry.
What Do Pediatric Dentists Do?
While the exact responsibilities of a pediatric dentist can vary slightly from patient to patient and age group to age group, each biannual visit will include a comprehensive oral health exam.
For infants, this includes risk assessment and examination for dental caries—cavities—in both the mother and child. It also includes a thorough dental cleaning and fluoride treatments, and a review of the health of the jaw, teeth, and gums to make sure they are all developing properly.
For children and teenagers, that comprehensive exam looks mostly the same: A cleaning and fluoride treatment, an examination to check for early signs of cavities or other potential issues, and an assessment of the overall development.
In early through late adolescence, a pediatric dentist can also complete an early assessment for straightening teeth if need be. If they are qualified, they may develop a treatment plan themselves, otherwise, they can refer you to an orthodontist.
Pediatric dentists can also give parents advice and guidance on how to develop healthy habits and put an end to the not-so-healthy ones. For instance, they can give tools and tips for weaning a child off of a pacifier, or to stop thumb sucking.
Some diseases can present in certain oral conditions, and pediatric dentists are specifically trained to identify these conditions in children and catch them early. Those include diabetes, potential heart defects, hay fever, asthma, and ADHD. Pedodontists also know how to identify signs of gum disease in children and adolescents and take steps to slow or reverse the damage.
Whether it’s for preventative care, a bright smile, overall health, or developing a positive association with the dentist and healthy habits, a pediatric dentist is a one-stop-shop.
When Should You Start Seeing a Pediatric Dentist?
Many parents wonder just when it’s the right time to start taking their child or children to a pediatric dentist. Most professionals recommend that a child have their first visit within six months of their first tooth coming in, or by the time they are one year old at the very latest.
That first exam will likely take around 30 to 45 minutes, during which your pediatric dentist will assess their teeth and gums, along with their jaw and bite development. After their first visit, it’s recommended that they return every six months.
Should I Take My Child to a Pediatric Dentist or a General Dentist?
Both pediatric and general dentists can provide dental care to infants, children, and teenagers. Why, then, would a parent seek out a specialist?
As we mentioned earlier, pediatric dentists continue their schooling for a few years beyond the general dentist educational requirements. During that additional training, pediatric dentists learn both more about the nuances of dental care and more about how certain dental issues present during development. But being a healthcare provider is about more than just what you know, it’s about how you interact with every patient. The pediatric dentist’s curriculum includes learning how to work with children, including how to make them comfortable, ease anxiety, and even engage them with their care and health. In most cases, their training also includes dental health for children with special needs.
Many children and adults feel anxiety about going to the dentist. A good pediatric dentist can make all the difference in changing these feelings; making trips to the dentist less stressful for children and easier for parents.
How To Find a Pediatric Dentist
If you’ve decided that you’d like to find a pediatric dentistry provider for your family, the next step will be doing a bit of research to find the right fit. Here are some tips for making the process smooth and simple:
- Ask people you know for recommendations. This way, you have firsthand accounts of good experiences with this dentist from those you trust.
- Ask about the dentist’s training. You may ask about their educational background, prior experience, or if they are board certified in their particular area of expertise.
- Make sure the location is right. You’ll be making biannual visits to this dentist for the next 18 years, potentially, so you’ll want to make sure getting there won’t be a chore every time.
- Check to see if they take your insurance. Many insurance companies will offer plans that include pediatric dental coverage, so check to see that your dentist takes yours.
- Visit the office. Before you make an appointment, consider stopping by to get a feel for the environment and meet the staff.
Mint Leaf Dentistry Pediatric Dentists
At Mint Leaf Dentistry, we understand that your child’s comfort and health are the two most important things to a parent. Our pediatric dentists are knowledgeable, kind, and compassionate—we believe good dental habits start early, and there’s no better way to nurture them than by making each experience at your dentist’s office a good one.