What Do Pediatric Dentists Do?

Pediatric dentistry is one of the dental specializations that is recognized by the American Dental Association. While all dentists must attend four years of dental school, additional schooling is required for the specializations; to become a pediatric dentist, dentists must complete two additional years of training with a dentistry residency that focuses on working with infants, children, and teens. Pediatric dentists specialize in the oral health of young people, from infancy through adolescence. While children are certainly welcome to see family dentists or general dentists, some parents prefer to take their children to a pediatric dentist when they want more specialized care. This can be helpful when people are specifically seeking a dentist who can offer gentle care, perhaps for children with disabilities or special needs, and who can also provide education to the patient and help them establish a foundation for excellent oral and dental health.

A child’s baby teeth have usually begun to erupt into the mouth by about 6 months of age, and children usually begin to lose these baby teeth at around age 6 or 7. The baby teeth are gradually replaced with secondary teeth, or permanent teeth. This means that children have two different sets of teeth, each of which faces a different set of possible challenges and requires different types of care. In the present day, it is not uncommon for children to have dental cavities, also known as caries, in their baby teeth; in fact, early dental caries have become more common than asthma and environmental allergies in the United States. Early dental care is therefore more important than ever before, and without the proper care, children may develop a disease that can lead to a whole host of long-term complications and potentially painful challenges.

Pediatric dentists are highly trained in the specific needs of children and adolescents. They are qualified to perform oral health exams on infants, in which they can assess the risks of dental cavities and how this risk may pass from the mother to the child. They can also provide preventative dental care, like routine cleanings or recommended fluoride treatments, and can counsel patients on diet and nutrition to improve oral health. Pediatric dentists are also proficient in habit counseling; for example, when infants use a pacifier or children suck their thumb, this can lead to oral health issues, and pediatric dentists are trained in therapies that help discourage these habits. If necessary, pediatric dentists can assess the mouth to determine if orthodontic treatment is necessary to either straighten the teeth or correct the bite. Of course, they can also repair dental cavities and fix other defects in the teeth, and they can care for dental injuries like knocked-out or fractured teeth. They can also diagnose oral conditions that may be related to other systemic conditions, like diabetes, asthma, hay fever, congenital heart defects, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and they can work with their young patients and their parents to address these conditions. Pediatric dentists are also trained to treat and manage gum diseases and oral conditions that can affect the periodontium of children and adolescents, including dental injuries and inflammation or damage caused by trauma to the oral cavity. Some of the conditions children may face include oral ulcers, which can be caused by vitamin deficiency, acidic foods, allergic response, or injury; mucoceles, which form when the salivary ducts are blocked due to trauma; a short frenulum, which is the small piece of membrane that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth; and pediatric periodontal disease

In addition to being highly trained to specialize in the clinical dental needs of children and adolescents, pediatric dentists learn how to examine young people without encouraging or exacerbating the natural anxiety many children feel when they’re at the doctor’s or dentist’s office. It can be challenging for children to patiently sit still while undergoing an examination, but pediatric dentists are trained in techniques that can help children remain comfortable during their examination, and they often use special equipment or practice in creatively designed offices that can be entertaining, distracting, or soothing for children, depending on their specific needs or challenges. They are not always able to be patient and cooperative during a dental exam. Your pediatrician will work with you to determine when your child should first see a pediatric dentist, and your pediatrician or general dentist can provide a recommendation for a pediatric who will work well with your child. Their specialized training and expertise will help them get your child started with care and training that will ensure they maintain healthy gums and teeth and a healthy mouth, for their entire life.

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