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The anatomy and physiology of children are not exactly the same as those of adults, so illnesses may affect them differently. For this reason, most healthcare professionals recommend parents take their children to pediatricians, doctors who specialize in treating children. Likewise, children can benefit immensely from seeing a pediatric dentist because pediatric dentists are well-versed in children’s dental care. A pediatric dentist’s education and training are specifically geared toward understanding and treating children to the best of their abilities.  

Why Choose a Pediatric Dentist?

Pediatric dentists specialize in the oral health needs of children from infancy through young adulthood. Not only must a pediatric dentist complete the training and educational requirements of a general dentist, they must finish 2 additional years of training in pediatric dentistry. During this time, pediatric dentists learn to treat special needs children and children with medication complications. This additional training includes patient behavior guidance, management, and communication. Children who need sedation dentistry can also depend on their pediatric dentist to provide those services because pediatric dentists earn special licenses to treat children under sedation safely.

Pediatric Dentists vs. General Dentists

Because pediatric dentists primarily with children, they must adjust their techniques, methods, and approaches to be more kid-friendly. It’s not uncommon for children to be afraid of the dentist, so it’s the pediatric dentist’s job to create a safe, comfortable environment and build a positive relationship with their patient.  

Many pediatric dentists treat their patients for their entire childhood, from the second the first tooth erupts until after the last wisdom tooth is pulled. Because the body constantly changing, pediatric dentists are trained in the supervision and evaluation of facial skeletal growth at every stage of a child’s development. This includes the transition from baby teeth to adult teeth, growth spurts, and other factors general dentists don’t typically encounter. Pediatric dentists also focus on early cavity prevention, nutrition guidance, and infant oral care for a child’s dental and overall well being.

General dentists, also known as family dentists, begin practicing dentistry after dental school. While they may not have specialized training in pediatric dentistry, they may have a broader range of services to offer patients. For example, they may provide restorative and cosmetic procedures on top of their preventative dental services. Families can look to their general dentist for referrals to dental specialists, like pediatric dentists, orthodontists, and endodontists.

Pediatric Dentists vs. Orthodontists

Though pediatric dentistry and orthodontics are very different specialties, there may be some overlap between the two. Orthodontists are dentists who finish 3 years of special training in the treatment of irregularities in the teeth and jaws. They also need to obtain a state-specific license to practice. Like pediatric dentists, orthodontists track and predict oral development and growth for their patients; however, orthodontists are also trained to use special appliances to correct the teeth for functional and aesthetic purposes.

Orthodontic treatment is most prevalent for teenagers and young adults, but some cases can necessitate early orthodontics to guide the alignment of the jaws and teeth. Regardless, orthodontics is not defined by the patient’s age but their dental condition. In fact, your pediatric dentist and orthodontist will work together to provide your child with a healthy, strong smile. Most pediatric dentists will perform or recommend an orthodontist to your child for early evaluation by the age of 7.

When Should I Start Bringing My Child to the Pediatric Dentist?

As soon as your child’s first tooth erupts or turns 1 (whichever comes first, you can bring your child to the pediatric dentist. Though there many not be too many teeth to inspect, there is still a lot of information about preventative dentistry for babies that the pediatric dentist can provide. The pediatric dentist will go over your family’s dental history and examine your child’s mouth. They will show you how to properly clean your child’s teeth and mouth to prevent cavities as well as what to eat to grow strong, healthy teeth. The pediatric dentist will also brief you on what to expect in the next few months.

Seeing the pediatric dentist early on will also help your child build a positive relationship with their provider, so they’re not scared in the future. Make sure to return for regular checkups every six months. Babies grow quickly and it’s important to keep your pediatric updated with any changes.

Can Pediatric Dentists Treat Adults?

While pediatric dentists have the technical training to treat adults, most pediatric dentists prefer to treat children because they have intentionally completed training to be qualified to work with children, not adults. In addition to this sentiment, pediatric dental offices are different from general practices. They are equipped with tools that can fit into children’s mouth and products that are catered to children’s needs. Certain procedures that adults may want, such as teeth whitening or veneers, may not always be available at the pediatric dentist’s office either. Addressing dental issues for adults is different and pediatric dentists may not be used to them.

Furthermore, insurance companies don’t cover visits to the pediatric dentist for adults. Of course, pediatric dentists can make exceptions, especially for long-time patients who have just turned 18 and have yet to find a new general dentist. If you or your child are struggling to find a new general dentist, talk to your pediatric dentist to work out a way to still receive dental care during the transition to a new doctor.

If you would like to a book an appointment with a pediatric dentist for your child, give us a call at Hacienda Pediatric Dentistry. Our pediatric dentist is great with kids and she’s always happy to meet new patients!