Pediatric Dentistry (Pedodontics) is one of the nine practice areas dentists can specialize in. As the title suggests, pediatric dentists work with children. A pediatric dentist’s youngest patients are infants. The oldest are on the cusp of adulthood. They’re are not just small grown-ups. The unique needs and oral health issues of growing children are why pediatric dentistry is a recognized specialty.
All dentists go to accredited dental schools after college. There are two recognized degrees. The Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) and Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD) are equivalents. In fact, they reflect the same education and training. The DMD degree exists only because of Harvard University. Harvard uses Latin for its degrees, so they called their dental degree “Dentariae Medicinae Doctor”. A dental school graduate can then apply for a state license to practice general dentistry.
Graduates who want to specialize in pediatric dentistry, however, have at least two more years of training ahead of them. Sometimes three. This training is called a residency. It’s an intense immersion in coursework and hands-on clinical experience. In fact, there are only three accredited pediatric residency programs in Florida. Only 14 students complete these programs each year. These graduates are ready to meet the requirements for certification by the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry (ABPD). It’s a long and difficult road. That’s one reason there are only about 7,000 pediatric dentists in the entire United States.
PEDIATRIC VS. GENERAL DENTISTRY
General dentists can treat patients of all ages. Many general dentists, though, don’t take patients below some minimum age they set. In contrast, pediatric dentists usually limit their practices to children. Kids often stay with their pediatric dentists until adulthood. Unlike general dentistry patients, though, pediatric patients “graduate”.
Pediatric dentistry is about caring for patients who are quickly changing. With 6-month checkups, the pedodontist sees a very different person each time. By the time a long-term patient has grown up, the pediatric dentist has cared for two sets of teeth!
A child’s first tooth usually erupts sometime before the first birthday. The APBD advises parents to introduce children to the pediatric dentist as soon as that first tooth appears. If no teeth have erupted by Birthday 1, parents should make that first appointment anyway.
A child’s first trip to the dentist is a major life event. It potentially sets the child on a course for optimum dental health practices, or, unfortunately, the opposite. A child who dislikes or fears going to the dentist is less likely to accept the dentist’s hygiene coaching. Such a child may become a teen and then an adult who avoids the dentist. Poor self-care and dodging the dentist are asking for trouble. All too often trouble comes, with all that entails for health, appearance, and finances.
SETTING THE TONE
That first visit to the pediatric dentist should be as pleasant for the child as can be. Everything matters. Everything in life is new to a baby. Pediatric dentists know the importance of office décor and atmosphere. The waiting area needs toys and posters. The kid-friendly theme needs to continue into the treatment room. The dentist and staff of a pediatric practice know how to make kids feel at home there. In fact, the phrase “dental home” is used in the profession to describe a child should see it. The Orlando pediatric dentist strives to make the office a child’s home-away-from-home. A place the child will be happy to return to.
One of the special aspects of pediatric dentistry is the focus on educating and coaching parents. This begins with the first visit. That’s when the dentist discusses things like cleaning the baby’s gums. It’s an opportunity to prepare parents for issues that might come up during the next six months, until the next checkup. Where there are teeth, there’s the risk of decay. Baby bottle tooth decay is all too common when parents are unaware of the causes and risks. Teething, too, is often fraught. However, pediatric dentists are gurus with methods and hacks to help parents cope. It’s called Serene Dental for good reason.
Before you know it, that little bundle who came in with one little tooth turns into a mobile, well, kid. Baby teeth will have all erupted by age 3 or so. With the dentist’s coaching, regular checkups, and a little luck, they’ll all still be there by age 6 or so. A little luck, because even with perfect hygiene and no decay, kids’ teeth get broken and knocked out. Pediatric dentists coach parents about dental emergencies so they’ll respond effectively in the event.
At around age six, the next chapter in a child’s dental story begins. The first permanent teeth erupt. The pediatric dentist arranges an orthodontic exam. If the child lost a baby tooth prematurely to decay or trauma, that evaluation may need to be done sooner. One reason baby teeth are important is that they are “placeholders” for the permanent teeth that replace them. In any case, the pediatric dentist is the early warning radar for orthodontic issues. The sooner these are brought to treatment, the better.
By this age, the dentist’s coaching and parental involvement will have kids taking over their own oral hygiene. Independent brushing and flossing are achieved or soon will be. Kids’ dietary preferences should be oral health-friendly. After all, they’re taking their cue from the dentist, and educated parents. But just when things seem to be going smoothly…
By age thirteen or so, all the permanent teeth except the wisdoms are in. The pediatric dentist’s attention has spotted any orthodontic issues. However, the patient seems to have developed a mind of his or her own.
No one needs to be told about the trials and traumas of teenagers. From the standpoint of oral health, it’s the increasing independence that leads to the typical concerns. Teens have more control over what goes into their mouths. They have more control over their brushing and flossing schedules. This is when the pediatric dentist’s (hopefully long) relationship with a patient can really shine. Teens who reflexively defy parents can still accept the advice of other adults they trust. The dental “home-away-from-home” can be the influence that supports good oral hygiene habits.
Brushing, check. Flossing, check. Healthy foods and snacks? Check. And then, the sudden intense need for…a tongue piercing! Or some other… thing. Parental resistance may not be futile, but could be counterproductive. Again, a trusted pediatric dentist can provide advice about risks, advice the teen might actually take. The teenage years may seem to parents like they go on forever, but in reality, these kids are hurtling toward…
As the teen years draw to a close, it’s time to “graduate” to a general dentist. Hopefully, the young adult has a mouthful of 32 healthy, straight teeth. His or her lifelong relationship with the pediatric dentist provided ongoing support for that outcome. Early adoption of great self-care habits offers every chance of keeping the best oral health the patient’s genes and nature permit. The pediatric dentist will soon be history. And it all began with that first baby checkup. That first tooth, that first birthday.