If you’re looking to find the right dentist & establish a “dental home” for your family, you may wonder what the difference is between a pediatric dentist (a.k.a. a kids’ dentist) & a family dentist. After all, most family dentists see both children & adults.
Children’s dentistry, known formally as pediatric dentistry, is a dental specialty recognized by the dental regulatory organizations in various countries, including the American Dental Association, the Royal College of Dentists of Canada, the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons & the General Dental Council in the United Kingdom. Only dentists who are trained as specialists in the care of children’s oral health can use the title pediatric dentist.
In addition to a standard 4-year dental degree (DDS, DMD or BDS), pediatric dentists complete an additional two or three years of training in a residency program learning to care for infants, children & adolescents.
Kids’ dentists provide the same checkups & cleanings for children that adults get at a general dentist. They also provide guidance & education to both children & their parents regarding good oral hygiene habits & diet & nutritional recommendations. This education helps to prevent pediatric dental caries, which is the clinical term for cavities & tooth decay in children’s teeth, & hopefully leads to a lifetime of healthy teeth & gums.
While a family dentist or general dentist can provide this care to children as well, what sets a pediatric dentist apart from a general dentist is their extensive training in dental issues specific to development & also the environment of their practices. A pediatric dentist’s practice is usually decorated & laid out to be kid friendly, with bright colors, toys, murals, games & more. All of this makes the dental office a welcoming & fun place for kids, which may help them feel more at ease in the dental chair than an office that is intended for adults. Many pediatric dentists pursue the specialty because they enjoy working with children & have the personality & patience to make kids’ dental visits stress-free. If your child is particularly nervous about visiting the dentist or has special health needs, you may consider bringing your child to a pediatric dentist rather than a general practice.
Many families choose to have both the adults & children in their families visit the same dentist as a matter of convenience. This gives the family dentist the advantage of knowing the oral health history of each member of the family, & may even allow parents & kids to get check-ups at the same time. If you are a first time parent & it’s almost time for your child’s first check-up (6 months after the first tooth or by age 1, by the way), talk to your dentist about whether they see children or would recommend a kids’ dentist in your area.