Dentistry for Kids: Rise of the Kid-Friendly Dentist

Over the past few decades, dentistry for kids has grown in how personal it can be, helping children and their parents experience less anxiety brought on by oral health issues and making sure every new experience at the dentist is comfortable and stress-free.

Pediatric dentistry was recognized as a specialty in 1948, with an inaugural National Children's Dental Health Day held the following year by the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA continued to increase its emphasis on children's dentistry as time went on, developing television ads and even comic books such as those featuring Dudley the Dragon, which debuted in 1971.

Attitude toward Primary Teeth

At one time, many parents, and even many dentists, didn't consider baby teeth to be particularly important. If one was lost to decay, wear or other problems, it was considered appropriate to just wait for the permanent tooth to arrive and take its place.

Over time, though, dentists have determined that caring for the primary teeth – and keeping them as long as possible – has a great effect on long-term oral health. Pediatric dentists now do everything they can to help children maintain their deciduous teeth as long as their mouths keep them in place. Keeping these baby teeth can specifically help prevent long-term problems with the adult teeth, including:

  • Misalignment due to missing baby teeth
  • Decay spreading into permanent teeth
  • Infection spreading into permanent teeth
  • Gum disease
  • Need for extensive, long-term orthodontic care

Many of these problems can be avoided if a child's teeth are cared for from the very beginning.

Awareness of Children's Dental Health Issues

Just as important as professional attitudes toward pediatric dentistry are those of the parents. The more aware Moms and Dads are of the importance of their child's dental health, the more likely they are to be sure their child visits the dentist. They're also more likely to care for their child's teeth and avoid situations that could increase the likelihood of decay.

One example is with early childhood caries, also referred to as "baby bottle mouth." CBC News reports that a Pediatrics study among aboriginal communities in Manitoba shows a direct relationship between a caregiver's attitude toward childhood dental care and the probability of a child developing cavities. In this light, a major focus of the AAPD and pediatric dentists in general is to increase awareness of the long-term effects of poor childhood dental health.

Approaches to Treatment

Another way dentists have changed the way they look at dentistry for kids is in how they approach their young patients. Studies like one from the European Journal of Dentistry help dentists determine how to best approach their young patients to reduce anxiety. Dentists' offices have also become much more kid-friendly, especially for family and pediatric dentists. Whereas a dental office would have been intimidating or even frightening just a few decades ago, they're now decorated with bright colors, appealing murals and a floor of toys and books for kids while they wait.

Pediatric and family dentists are also much more likely to have had training in how to communicate with and relate to kids, as demonstrated by an article in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on behavioral management in the dental office. Kids feel more secure when they aren't left out, ignored or spoken to as if they are inferior. Having a dentist explain what's going to happen in clear, basic terms can go a long way toward keeping a child anxiety-free. New products aimed directly at children, such as Colgate® My First® toothbrush and toothpaste, can help make at-home oral care more appealing.

These changes in attitude toward dentistry for kids and the resulting improvements in their oral care have helped children experience much less anxiety at the dentist and grow up with healthier teeth. As adults, they will also be more likely to visit the dentist, ensuring better lifetime dental health.