Does My Kid Need a Pediatric Dentist?

If your child is ready for their first visit to the dentist, or if they have a dental emergency, you may be wondering about the best type of professional to treat him or her. Is it necessary to take your kid to a pediatric dentist, or can you bring them to your current dentist? Here, we’ll explain some of the ins and outs of visiting a pediatric dentist and what makes them different from non-specialty dentists.

What Does a Pediatric Dentist Do?

A pediatric dentist, as the name implies, specializes in treating children. In addition to attaining a four-year undergraduate degree and attending four years of dental school, he or she has completed two or three years of additional specialty training and focuses solely on children. They can serve children of all ages—from toddlers through teenagers—as well as adults. Some even specialize in children who have special healthcare needs.

Some of the services a pediatric dentist can provide include regular dental exams, preventive care like cleanings and fluoride treatments, repair of dental injuries, recommendations on diet and nutrition, advice about pacifiers and thumb-sucking, and can alert you to dental issues that may be related to other health conditions. Pediatric dentists can identify potential orthodontic issues and can make a referral to an orthodontist for further follow-up.

How is a Pediatric Dentist Different from a Typical Dentist?

Aside from the extra schooling and specialization, a dentist that treats kids will most likely have a much more kid-friendly office. Because pediatric dentists work with kids all day long, they’re pretty experienced at making sure a checkup or treatment is a fun and positive experience for your child. Think bright colors, toys and books in the waiting area, and plenty of kid-sized equipment necessary for treating little mouths. They also know how to make the experience engaging, and will go out of their way to do so.

Additionally, pediatric dentists are trained to recognize problems that don’t generally affect adult teeth, such as dental developmental issues, and root canals on adult teeth that are not yet fully formed. They also have the option of doing postgraduate training in children’s hospitals for even further specialization and experience, and they usually place particular emphasis on age-appropriate communication and winning the trust of parents. For example, if your 4-year-old needs a dental procedure but is crying and won’t sit still, chances are that a pediatric dentist has been there and done that hundreds of times before. They know what to do and say to get your kid to sit calmly while they work.

Choosing a Pediatric Dentist

Choosing a pediatric dentist is much like choosing any other dentist or medical professional. We recommend starting with our dentist finder tool to locate a dentist near you.

In addition to this tool, we have found that referrals from people you know and trust are also a good way to decide who to see. Ask your friends, neighbors, family members, or coworkers which pediatric dentist they take their child to. What do they like about him or her? Are the staff helpful and polite? Is the office kid-friendly? Does the dentist and staff engage with your child in a friendly and positive manner? All of these questions will help you determine which dentist to choose. You can also schedule a visit to the office of a dentist you are considering, to see whether they might be a good fit for your child and you.

Pediatric Dentist or General Family Dentist?

Some general dentists have basic training in pediatric dentistry and will advertise themselves as a “family dentist.” Although family dentistry is not a recognized subfield by itself, many family dentists have the talent and experience to work with children, too.

Deciding whether to take your child to a pediatric dentist or a family dentist is ultimately up to you, based on your child’s needs. Here are some of the things that should factor into your decision:

  • Specialization. How important is it to you that your child sees a dentist that specializes in children, rather than one who treats children but does not make it their sole focus? As we discussed, a pediatric dentist makes creating a kid-friendly space a top priority.
  • Convenience. If you or another family member is already seeing a dentist who treats both children and adults, the convenience factor of being able to take everyone in the family to the same dentist may play a role in your decision.
  • Continuity. With a pediatric dentist, your child will eventually age out of their practice and will need to switch to a general dentist at around age 18. With a general dentist, however, your child can continue seeing the same practitioner for many years.

There are advantages to taking your child to a pediatric dentist, as well as a general family dentist. Check out our handy search tool <> for help finding a dentist in your area.