The Difference Between a General Dentist and a Paediatric Dentist

Our Dental Blog | Child Dentistry | 09.16.2019

All dentists are qualified to care for your oral health. But when it’s time to start taking your child to the dentist — which should be by their first birthday — many parents are uncertain whether their family dentist is the right dental professional to go to. Many seek out a pediatric dentist who specializes in children’s oral care.

But does the type of dentist really matter? After all, they’re all qualified to offer preventive care, including professional cleanings and comprehensive exams, as well as handle common dental treatments. While your child will most likely receive great dental care from both a pediatric and general dentist, there are undeniable benefits to seeing a pediatric dentist.

Their Training

A family or general dentist typically receives three or more years of undergraduate education, followed by four years of dental school. At this point, the general dentist is qualified to handle most common dental and oral concerns that affect people of all ages. To become a pediatric dentist, a general dentist must undertake an additional two to three years of intensive residency and specialty training.

Pediatric dentists specialize in oral care for infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers. They are trained to handle:

  • Treatment of children under anesthesia and sedation
  • Treatment of medically compromised children and adolescents
  • Management of growth and development concerns affecting the mouth, face, and head

More importantly, pediatric dentists handle the essential preventive and restorative dental treatments that children require in a way that is tailored specifically to them.

Tweens and teens have unique dental health challenges attributed to their rapid growth and development as they transition from childhood to adulthood. Both general and pediatric dentists can adequately address these needs, but a pediatric dentist may be better equipped to offer continued care due to their familiarity with the individual child.

Quality of Care

Pediatric dentists are the most highly trained and skilled dental professionals in preventive care and advocate for active preventive practices for infants from the moment the first tooth erupts at the age of six months. This makes them the best-placed clinicians to help in the prevention of oral disease and cavities in children.

Again, in the arena of treating active dental disease, tooth decay, and caries, pediatric dentists are in a far better position to offer definitive, comprehensive, and atraumatic dental disease treatment in children.

That said, there are some general family dentists who have chosen to solely or largely work with children, and have pursued continuing education in pediatric dental care, which makes them just as proficient as pediatric dentists in providing children with high-quality preventive and restorative treatment.

The challenge, however, is that most parents are not in a position to determine with certainty that a general dentist has expertise and experience in providing dental care for children. If you choose to work with a general dentist, you can assess their willingness and ability to offer effective preventive dental care for your baby or toddler, and then use your judgement to determine their competence in adolescent dental care.

Child-Friendly Care

One of the biggest concerns for parents when taking their children to the dentist is having an unpleasant experience that causes them to dread future visits. Pediatric dentists are trained in child psychology and behaviour, which means they know how to make children feel comfortable in the dentist’s chair, as well as how to handle children with special needs.

There are several components of providing child-friendly care, including:

  1. The use of specialized equipment

    While general dentists mostly use standard-sized dental equipment, pediatric dentists have to use smaller tools that are tailored to a child’s mouth. Your child will not have to open their mouth as wide and treatment will be easier for the dentist. Having and using child-friendly tools helps ensure that your little one feels comfortable in the dental chair, and is less intimidated.

  2. Fear management

    Since a pediatric dentist is used to working with small children, they take the time to familiarize the child with the tools, one-at-a-time, without overwhelming them. This helps to get rid of their fear of the unknown. For instance, pediatric dentists don’t use suction tubes or water rinses; they use a vacuum and water shower. Using child-friendly language also helps to create a positive environment that helps your little one stay relaxed in the dental chair.

  3. Prepared to cater to special needs

    Pediatric dentists are trained and experienced in communicating effectively with children irrespective of their personal needs. If you’re afraid that your child may not respond well to treatment, you will have an opportunity to discuss their unique needs with the dentist beforehand. Pediatric dentists take the time to know each patient and are prepared to offer extra attention and consideration as needed, so you can have peace of mind.

  4. Fun atmosphere

    If you often feel nervous at the dentist, then you can just imagine how your little one might feel. Pediatric dental offices are designed to create a fun, friendly, and comfortable environment, with games in the reception area, cartoons and comic magazines, bright, playful colours, toys, and so much more! Your child may feel more comfortable and confident in a pediatric dental office compared to the more clinical environment of a general dentist’s office.

Benefits of a Pediatric Dentist Over a General Dentist

While both pediatric and general dentists will have your child’s best interests at heart and ensure proper oral care, the benefits of taking your child to see a pediatric dentist are worth considering when making this important decision. To summarize, some of these benefits include:

  • They have the necessary training and experience to care for children properly
  • They can provide special attention to your child’s sensitive teeth
  • They have specialized knowledge of children’s teeth and jaw development
  • They can help children break bad habits like thumb sucking or prolonged pacifier use
  • They know how to put your child at ease, allowing the necessary care and avoiding dreaded dental visits in the future due to a negative experience

The Canadian Dental Association recommends that children visit a dentist before their first birthday, after which their dentist will schedule regular dental visits every six months or as appropriate for your child’s dental and oral health.

To learn more about the differences between a pediatric dentist and a general dentist, call Treehouse Dental at 1-833-333-6623 or contact us here.

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