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Should Your Child See a Family Dentist or Pediatric Dentist?

Little girl at dentist looking up and smiling.

A child’s first visit to the dentist should occur no later than their first birthday. Early and regular dental care is recommended for all children. Therefore, it is important to establish who will be providing this routine care for your child.

Pediatric dental offices are known for their playful themes, beloved characters, toys, and even arcades in the waiting room. These offices are extremely inviting to little minds and eyes. However, an atmosphere completely catered to children does not necessarily qualify a pediatric dentist as the best fit for your child’s dental needs. Your family dentist might provide equal, if not higher, quality dental care. There are many reasons parents feel compelled to seek out a pediatric office for their child. A few of the most common reasons are addressed below:

Common Misconceptions About Pediatric Dentistry

Misconception 1: Pediatric dentists are the experts in child dental care.

Pediatric dentists wear their expertise on their sleeves – literally, their job description is in their title. However, all dentists are trained in pediatric care while they attend dental school. The distinction between a general dentist and a pediatric dentist are two additional years of school that focus on the care of children, especially children with developmental and behavioral needs. Simply, this means your family dentist is also skilled in the dental care of infants and children.

Misconception 2: Pediatric dentists are better equipped to handle children.

In severe cases for children under thirteen years of age, pediatric dentists may use IV sedation or an alternative (conscious sedation) on their patients during complicated dental procedures. It is rare a child will need the type of procedures requiring such anesthesia, and when they do, they are often sent to the operating room. In general family dentistry, sedation is rarely used for children younger than thirteen years old. However, if necessary, most general family dentists will use Valium for children six years old and up, and Nitrous Oxide (also known as laughing gas).

Pediatric dentists have managed to streamline their dental treatments by developing effective methods for their dental practice. However, when efficiency is increased, it is usually at the cost of something else. At times, parents are discouraged from accompanying their children to the treatment rooms to limit the number of distractions for the young patient. Pediatric offices might also use straps to hold children down during procedures, to prevent interference or accidents. These methods are not intended to harm the patient, but they are relevant when considering the type of dental office for your child.

The alternative to this is to encourage parents to remain in the treatment rooms with their children for moral support; and if the parent prefers to remain outside, many family dental offices will provide a separate waiting room within eye and ear shot of the procedure.

Misconception 3: Pediatric dentists have more awareness of child specific care and growth patterns.

Identifying growth patterns and recommending preventive care is important in the overall dental care of growing children. In dealing with children on a daily basis, it is reasonable to assume that a pediatric dentist would be more attuned to the considerations of a child’s rapidly changing dental needs. However, your family dentist can also facilitate intervention and best timing for any growth modification treatment, such as orthodontics and habit cessation.

In determining the right type of dental office for your child, you want them to feel comfortable with the dentist they will be seeing regularly for years to come. If a child establishes a trusting relationship with their dentist, they are more relaxed, allowing for each procedure to run smoothly.

So, What Should YOU Do?

We recommend first setting up a time to bring your child into your family dentist’s office to meet the dentist and see how they interact with one another. This gives you, the parent, an opportunity to see how your child and the dentist will bond. If the child is comfortable with the dentist, that will do more than any amount of balloons or arcade games in promoting a positive experience at the dentist.

For specific tips on preparing your child for their first visit to the dentist, check out 5 Positive Practices for your Child’s First Dentist Visit.