Once you decide to take your child to the dentist the first decision you’ve got to make is whether you should go to a general dentist or a pediatric dentist. I’m here to give you some more information so you can make a good decision.
So first of all, what is a pediatric dentist?
A pediatric dentist is someone who went all the way through dental school and then completed an additional 2-3 year residency in pediatrics. They learn everything there is to know about treating children from sedation to behavior management to special types of procedures specific to children. Their offices are usually set up to treat children in a more non-threatening manner than your typical general dental office.
Are general dentists qualified to treat children?
Most general dentists receive minimal training in treating children during dental school. That isn’t to say some general dentists aren’t very good at treating children. I’m a general dentist but I’ve personally treated thousands of children over my career and feel very comfortable doing so. Other general dentists don’t feel comfortable at all and refer children out to a pediatric dentist immediately. Most general dentist are happy to tell you about their philosophy of treating children if you ask.
Who should definitely see a pediatric dentist?
Even though I’m very comfortable treating children, there are still some circumstances where I refer children out to my local pediatric dentist.
- Under age 7 with a lot of large cavities. Significant dental treatment can be challenging enough for adults and even more so for young children. A pediatric dentist is better equipped to get treatment done quickly, effectively, and handle any complications that may occur.
- Very anxious children.
- Any child who needs sedation. Sedation on children is much more challenging than sedation on adults. You want someone who does this all the time, which is what a pediatric dentst does.
- Children with special needs. Most pediatric dentists have received additional training in help those with special needs.
Other Common Questions About Pediatric Dentists
When should I take my child to the dentist?
Current recommendations are that you take your child to the dentist within 6 months of them getting their first tooth in. The reason for this recommendation really isn’t so that the child can have check-up but more so that the dentist can have a discussion with the parents. The major things discussed are…
- Diet is the single biggest factor in kids developing cavities.
- Never give your child a sippy cup of juice or milk at night. Water only.
- Limit sugary beverages and snacks as much as possible.
- Best ways to clean their teeth
- When to start using fluoride toothpaste
If you’ve got all this down already and your kids are at low risk, I’m OK with waiting until kids are 2 before starting to be seen regularly. I think starting to be seen at 2 is good for the children at that point so they can get used to going to the dentist without it being a scary thing. The older generation is full of dental-phobics and the new generation of dentists are trying to avoid that as much as possible.
Best practices for parents when taking their children to the dentist
I know that as a parent you want to protect and watch your children. Some parents take this a bit further than others. I get it! I’ve got four kids of my own.
In general at the dentist, children under age 4 usually do better with their parents around. Around age 4 children start to do far better with parents out of the room. Ever left your children with your parents or a babysitter and when you come back they tell that they were absolute angels? You can’t believe it right? They are always little tornado’s of energy when you’re around. It’s the same at the dentist’s office. Kids who are otherwise cooperative and helpful can act out simply because their parents are around. If you feel like your child is being uncooperative, consider leaving the room to see if their behavior improves. It’s also important to avoid speaking with the dentist or hygienist as much as possible while they are actively treating your child. Keeping children engaged and comfortable takes focused attention on them, not on their parents. By all means ask questions before and after treatment, just not during. Following these couple of tips can make all the difference in the world in your child’s dental visit.
Why won’t my pediatric dentist let me be there during sedation?
The reasons are very similar to why you aren’t allowed in while a loved one is having surgery in the hospital. As I discussed previously, sedation of children can be tricky. A pediatric dentist, while very skilled, still needs to focus all of their attention on that child especially if sedation is involved. A parent in the room makes this difficult. Also, if complications arise, they need to be able to treat it quickly and effectively without a worried parent standing over. This is rare, but the #1 concern for a pediatric dentist is keeping your child safe.
Places Not To Go:
Now there are some places that bill themselves as a kid’s dentist, but aren’t actually. Usually these are corporate run places staffed by general dentists. I would stay away from these types of places at all costs. The major offices in this market are Kool Smiles and Small Smiles. I’ve seen how they are run and it isn’t good. They usually double and triple book their dentists and hygienists. Even if you get a good dentist or hygienist there, they won’t usually have enough time to do things as well as they can. Waiting long periods of time isn’t unusual. Production goals are all that management cares about. These places market heavily to people on Medicaid because few dentists participate. It is far more common for pediatric dentists to participate with Medicaid than general dentists. The last estimate I saw was that about 30% of pediatric dentists nationwide participate with their state medicaid program. If you can avoid these corporate places, please do. If your child is on medicaid and it is your only option, try to find an individual pediatric dentist who accepts it instead. You and your kids will be happier.