The pediatric dentist is the specialist who is dedicated to the oral health of children from infancy through the teenage years. The very young, pre-teens, and teenagers all need different approaches in dealing with their behavior, guiding their dental growth and development, and helping them avoid future dental problems. The pediatric dentist is best qualified to meet these needs. Pediatric dentists have had special training, which allows them to provide the most up-to-date and thorough treatment for a wide variety of children’s dental problems. They are trained and qualified to treat special patients who may have emotional, physical, or mental handicaps. Because of this specialized training and commitment to comprehensive oral health, many parents wisely choose a pediatric dentist to treat their children.
Total Health Care
The pediatric dentist is concerned about a child’s total health care and good oral health is an important part of total health. To help your child stay totally healthy, the pediatric dentist often works with pediatricians, other physicians, and other dental specialists. Normal children as well as hospitalized, handicapped, and chronically ill children often are served best through this team approach — the pediatric dentist is an important part of the child’s health team.
Children are a precious gift. An early start in regular dental care is an important step on the road to total health. Pediatric dentists recommend that children begin routine dental visits by age one so that any problems may be detected, treated early, or even avoided completely.
As children become teenagers, their attitude toward dental care may change. Their appearance and self-image are very important to them; decayed teeth or poorly positioned teeth or jaws make them very self-conscious. Teens also eat frequently and snack foods tend to become a major part of their regular diet. Pediatric dentists are taught techniques to manage the special problems of teens. Techniques to deal with behavior, to restore and guide teeth, and to teach preventive dental health care are designed with the teen in mind. When your pediatric dentist has followed your child from early youth into the teen years, he/she can subtly change the approach to the child’s own special needs in a sensitive, caring, and professional manner.
Patients with Special Needs
An important part of the education of a pediatric dentist is concerned with the medical and dental problems of the special patient. People with significant medical, physical, or mental disabilities often present unique challenges to dentists. Pediatric dentists are specially trained in techniques that ensure excellent care for these patients.
Tooth decay (cavities or caries) is a progressive disease that often begins in very young children. Decay is a result of the interaction between bacteria that are normally on our teeth and sugars in the everyday diet. The bacteria use those sugars to produce acid. A tooth exposed to this acid will lose mineral, and that loss is the first step toward tooth decay. Your pediatric dentist can remove the decay and use modern materials such as tooth-colored or silver fillings to restore the tooth to a healthy state. If tooth damage is very severe, there may be nerve damage and a stainless steel crown might be required. Your pediatric dentist is familiar with treatment techniques required by extensive tooth decay and can employ medications that control pain and alleviate your child’s apprehension about treatment. Many pediatric dentists are doing research to learn how to prevent dental decay and other forms of the disease. Visiting a pediatric dentist early in the child’s growing years can help avoid unnecessary decay and dental treatment later.
Pediatric dentists advise parents that regular dental care should begin by one year of age. By this age, many children already have dental decay. The prevention of dental disease is an important consideration during the first few visits. Your pediatric dentist will discuss gum diseases and explain how to avoid them or how to minimize damage if it already has started. He/she will discuss a program of preventive home care including brushing, flossing, diet control, and the importance of fluorides. He/she also may discuss nursing decay (bottle-mouth syndrome), a pattern of decay associated with prolonged nursing. The teeth in a child who either sleeps with a bottle or who nurses frequently can develop a type of decay that attacks quite rapidly. The upper front teeth and then the upper and lower back teeth decay rapidly and all of the baby teeth may be destroyed if the condition is not detected and corrected early enough. To prevent nursing caries, pediatric dentists recommend that a child be weaned by approximately 12 months of age.
Decay Prevention Using Sealants
A sealant is a clear or shaded plastic material that your pediatric dentist may apply to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. Because the back teeth have depressions and grooves on their chewing surfaces, they are difficult or impossible to clean. As you can see from the picture below, the sealant forms a coating or barrier to protect the tooth from bacteria and bits of food. By protecting the depressions and grooves with a coating of sealant, your pediatric dentist can dramatically reduce the risk of decay for children and teens.
Importance of Primary Teeth
It is very important that primary teeth are kept until they are lost naturally. They serve a number of important functions. They help maintain good nutrition by permitting your child to chew properly. They are important in allowing good pronunciation and speech habits; and they help your child feel good about the way he/she looks to others. Primary teeth also help guide the proper eruption of the permanent teeth. When primary teeth are lost too early, the space that is left should be maintained by a “space maintainer” to ensure that there will be enough room for the permanent teeth when they erupt. Your pediatric dentist has the knowledge required to apply both preventive and corrective techniques that will maintain the health of your child’s teeth. Many times he/she can make a minor correction that will eliminate major dental work later.
Falls at home or on the playground and athletic injuries often cause damage to the teeth and gums. Many injuries are obvious but some can be hidden. It is important to have your pediatric dentist examine the child as soon as possible after the incident even if the wounds don’t look too bad, you should go to the dentist as soon as possible after the injury so that no teeth are lost from hidden injuries beneath the gums. Prompt treatment often can help stop later bite problems. Quick action often can save a tooth that has been knocked completely out of the socket!
Management of Bite Problems & Growth and Development of Children
Disturbances in the normal growth and development of children can occur in many ways. Bite problems (teeth in the wrong positions — “malocclusion”) are often a concern to parents. Some of these problems are hereditary, such as missing or extra teeth from birth, but many are caused by other factors like thumbsucking or an early loss of the baby teeth. It is important to detect bite problems and determine their cause as soon as possible. Your pediatric dentist’s knowledge of growth and development allows him/her to detect and treat these problems at an early age. This not only avoids bite problems later, but it may also improve your child’s appearance, speech, and ability to eat and digest foods properly.
Sometimes there are disturbances when a child is developing, which can cause discoloration and/or deformation of his teeth. These disturbances can be local, disturbing only one or a few teeth, or they can be systemic, disturbing most of the teeth. These defects can affect normal chewing as well as adversely affect the child’s looks (which can cause emotional problems). Your pediatric dentist can provide comprehensive treatment that will not only restore the teeth to their normal function and appearance but will also help your child feel better about his/her looks.
Children’s Behavior in the Dental Office
Pleasant visits to the dental office help a child establish trust and confidence that will last a lifetime. Pediatric dentists and their staff have been specially trained to help young, apprehensive children feel good about seeing the dentist and taking care of their teeth. Friendly, compassionate professionals and bright, cheerful office surroundings are all there to help your child have healthy teeth and gums.