What Does a Pediatric Dentist Do?


Apart from a general family dentist, one of the most common types of dentists that people are familiar with is a pedodontist — that is, a pediatric dentist.

Like other specialized types of dentists, a pediatric dentist is an expert in a particular area of dentistry; namely, treating children. In order to become board-certified as a specialist, they must complete an additional 2-3 years of formal education and residency training after the standard 4 years of dental school. Those post-graduate years are solely focused on treating pediatric patients.

Why is There a Need for Pediatric Dentists?

A family dentist can see patients of all ages, but there are instances where children are better off with a dental provider that specializes in seeing young patients.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • If the child has anxiety or behavioral concerns that would prevent them from being able to sit still during a routine dental visit, there may be resources available to help them relax or be sedated during treatment.
  • Children with special needs — such as medical or mobility issues — require additional time and experienced staff to ensure their care can be completed in a gentle and calm manner.
  • Pediatric dentists have extra training and experience in child psychology and behavior management. As such, they’re better equipped to treat less physically or emotionally mature patients who are just beginning to form their opinion of the dentist’s office.
  • When treatment is needed, general dentists typically do not have the materials or tools needed to repair primary (baby) teeth. A pediatric dentist does.
  • In a pediatric office, there are typically expanded services that are not available within a family practice, such as interceptive orthodontics, thumb-sucking appliances, or growth modification appliances.

And most especially, because the atmosphere and staff are catered to the emotional and physical needs of young patients. Most pediatric dentists design their office so that it’s fun and inviting, to the point that their young patients look forward to their appointments and may not even want to leave.

Treatments Only a Pediatric Dentist Offers

If your child needs a large filling — or something more advanced, like a “pulp and crown” — a general family dentist will not usually be able to provide this service. Instead, you’ll be referred to a pediatric dentist who has the resources available to ensure the tooth is repaired in an optimal manner.

It’s not that a general dentist doesn’t know how to repair a baby tooth; it’s that their office is typically not equipped with the same materials and equipment needed to do so. Small temporary crowns for instance, come in a number of different sizes and shapes. A pediatric dentist would have these on hand each day of the week, but a family dentist may only need one once a year, and not find it necessary to stock up on inventory that would otherwise sit unused.

Pediatric dentists also have visiting access to local hospitals or offer pediatric sedation inside of their practice. This becomes useful when children require complex treatments that take longer to perform, or there is a medical issue preventing the child from being able to sit through a procedure.

Do You Need a Referral to See a Pediatric Dentist?

Even though they’re specialists, most pediatric dentists do not require a referral to make an appointment at their office. You can call them directly to schedule an appointment. Likewise, it’s not usual for dental insurance carriers to restrict parents from taking their child to a pediatric dentist, as regular visits can help children avoid common oral health conditions. It’s similar to how you visit a pediatrician, but don’t pay extra when you’re not seeing a general practitioner.

Taking your child to the dentist regularly can help them avoid tooth decay, orthodontic problems later on, or even speech problems. But if you don’t have dental insurance, you may be tempted to avoid trips to a pedodontist until your child complains of a toothache.

Unfortunately, baby teeth tend to decay at a much faster rate than adult ones do. That’s why skipping routine checkups isn’t something that any parent wants to make a habit of.

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