While all dentists are competent to treat child patients, not all dentists tailor their practices to pediatric dentistry. Pediatric dentists focus on pediatric patients in many ways. Here are five ways that pediatric dentists differ from other dentists:
Pediatric dentists are familiar with kids and issues that arise when treating kids. For example, children will feel more comfortable with a dentist who can build a rapport with them and “speaks their language.” Children will also feel comfortable with a dentist who addresses their fears by explaining dental procedures and makes sure they understand what is happening.
Of equal importance is the dentist’s knowledge of pediatric dental issues. For example, the effects of thumb sucking and tongue thrusting on the teeth, the risks to the teeth from sports activities, and the proper development of primary teeth. While all dentists learn about these issues in dental schools, pediatric dentists deal with these issues daily and develop a body of knowledge through experience. Based on this experience, a pediatric dentist will be able to provide information about pediatric problems and advice about how to reduce their incidence.
Anxiety is a fear of the unknown. Anxiety is our brain’s way of keeping us safe from unknown dangers. Too much anxiety, however, is dangerous both mentally and physically.
Anxiety can trigger a rush of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These are the hormones that prepare us for “fight or flight.” Adrenaline causes our heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure to increase. Cortisol causes digestion to stop, our blood vessels to contract, and our liver to release glucose into our bloodstream. The physical effect is that we are edgy and nervous and can experience trembling, vomiting, and dizziness.
Pediatric dentists are accustomed to helping children cope with dental anxiety. These measures can include providing a non-threatening environment, explaining the procedures that will happen, and making sure that a parent is there to support the child. A dental practice that is tailored to kids will offer a tour of the office to make sure that both parent and child are comfortable. Most importantly, the dentist will approach pediatric dental care in a calm way to avoid triggering any fear or anxiety.
Pediatric dentists can get busy. However, knowing that their patients usually have little patience, pediatric dentists provide a comfortable waiting room with plenty to keep kids occupied. A pediatric dentist’s waiting room might include a play area with some toys to occupy small children and a reading area with books and magazines for their parents. Even more useful, many include a television or video game system to help older children pass the time.
Most importantly, pediatric dentists employ staff that can interact with children and accommodate any problems that arise while waiting whether it be a child who needs to use the potty or a parent who needs to recharge her phone. A helpful staff and a comfortable waiting room can make a world of difference to parents and their kids.
Dental emergencies will arise, particularly with children. Falls, impacts, and contact sports can all result in emergency visits to the dentist. A pediatric dentist is both available for emergencies (or provides for someone to cover for the dentist when unavailable) and knows how to deal with them.
This is not just a matter of patient service. Some injuries or other dental emergencies can affect a child’s health and create future problems if they are not addressed quickly. For example, knocked out teeth can be saved if a dentist is seen immediately. However, if the tooth cannot be saved, the missing tooth can result in crooked teeth, gap teeth, or other cosmetic and functional dental problems.
For children, the most important role of a dentist may be to teach preventative care. This can help children develop good habits that will keep their teeth healthy throughout life. Healthy teeth not only look nice, but can reduce the risk of infection, indigestion, malnutrition, and infection later in life.
For adults, tooth brushing and flossing may seem second nature. For children, it is a whole new experience. Teaching proper tooth brushing technique can mean the difference between healthy teeth and gums and a lifetime of cavities and gum disease. Moreover, children need to learn the importance of flossing as well as the proper way to floss. Armed with this information, children can avoid costly and painful dental procedures down the road.
Statistically, this is of great significance to the oral health of children. Over 40% of kindergarteners have had dental cavities. Dental cavities are caused by the acid produced by bacteria living in dental plaque stuck to teeth. As this acid interacts with the tooth enamel, it eats away at the surface and causes demineralization of the tooth. The simplest way to avoid dental cavities is to brush and floss. Tooth brushing physically removes the dental plaque from teeth, eliminating the bacteria that cause dental cavities.
A pediatric dentist can also provide you with advice on fluoride. While dentists usually recommend that children under two years old avoid fluoridated toothpaste, older children benefit greatly from fluoride. Fluoride helps calcium mineralize in teeth, making them stronger and less prone to dental cavities.
Finding the right pediatric dentist takes time, but the best pediatric dentists know the practice and have tailored their practice to their patients.