Dentist and kid in the dental office

What Is A Pediatric Dentist?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Most families take their children to a family or general dentist. But some families need extra or specialized care. Pediatric dentists have unique qualifications; they can provide gentler care and education for young children and treat young patients with special needs or disabilities. Learn more about the difference between pediatric dentists and general dentists and the benefits pediatric dentists provide.

What does a Pediatric dentist do?

Pediatric dentists complete a program that emphasizes treating children who simply need gentler care and treating children and adolescents with special needs and disabilities. The program involves two to three years of further training after dental school. The program includes working in hospitals and working with children who need more severe dental treatment and emergencies. Pediatric dentists also learn orthodontic teeth-straightening methods. Pediatric dentists work closely with pediatricians and general dentists. Pediatricians and general dentists will refer select patients to pediatric dentists. Some Pediatric dentists teach in dental schools and work in hospital training facilities to conduct research to develop better methods of preventing oral health problems in children. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) lists several resources to learn more about their role.

What benefits do Pediatric dentists offer to children?

Like all dentists, Pediatric dentists focus on oral health and the prevention and treatment of diseases and tooth decay. They also educate parents and other dental professionals on how best to treat children. Also, Pediatric dentists are experts at explaining procedures to children and building trust with their young patients.

The AAPD lists many methods that Pediatric dentists use to communicate with young patients, including:

  1. Positive reinforcement - Praise patients for good behavior, including sitting still and following directions.
  2. Tell-show-do - A method in which the dentist explains the treatment in words the child will understand, showing them the treatment in a simplified manner, and then starting the procedure.
  3. Tone - Pediatric dentists may use a friendlier or soothing tone for the patients to build trust and demystify an appointment.

How old are Pediatric dentists' patients?

Pediatric dentists, like pediatricians, can treat children from birth to college. Suppose a young patient needs dental treatment in a hospital due to a medical condition. In that case, a pediatric dentist is uniquely qualified. Often, Pediatric dentists will still see patients with special needs past 18 because the dentist knows the patient's dental history, special treatments, and procedure needs.

Why choose a Pediatric dentist instead of a general dentist?

All general dentists receive training from pediatric specialists in dental school. Some general dentists are more comfortable than others in treating small children and common childhood dental needs. But, if a general dentist is not comfortable treating a young child or special needs child, they can refer them to a Pediatric dentist.

Pediatric dentists perform dental procedures like general dentists. Yet, because of their specialized training, they can handle many difficult behavioral situations.

Children respond to dental visits differently than adults. A child may be anxious or fearful in unfamiliar surroundings. This anxiety can be severe when the patient requires extensive treatment. When a child or a patient with disabilities requires extensive dental treatment, the Pediatric dentist can often provide sedation or general anesthesia.

How to find the right pediatric dentist

First, ask your child's pediatrician for recommendations. You can also check the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry's dentist search tool. Ensure you choose a Pediatric dentist that has completed the two- to a three-year program. A Pediatric dentist can help create a lifetime of healthy smiles for your children and ensure positive dental office experiences.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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