In 2020, the US was home to 201,117 active dentists. Of these oral health care professionals, only one in five practice a specialization. Pediatric dentistry is one such area of dental specialization.
What exactly is pediatric dentistry, though, and what makes it a “specialty”? What kind of services can you expect from these dentists? Most importantly, how important is it for your child to see one and not a general dentist?
We’ll answer all these burning questions in this guide, so be sure to read on!
What Is Pediatric Dentistry?
Pediatric dentistry is a dentistry specialization for infants, children, and teens. Its focus is to deliver primary and comprehensive oral health care to young patients. In this way, they’re much like pediatric doctors, except that they deal with oral health.
Since pediatric dentistry is a specialization, practitioners must have a specialty license. For this reason, less than 4% of all active dentists in the US have a license to practice pediatric dentistry. In 2018, there were only 8,033 active pediatric dentists in the United States.
What Makes Pediatric Dentistry for Kids Different From General Dentistry?
Licensed general dentists provide primary oral health care services. They diagnose, treat, and manage their patients’ overall dental health needs. As “general practitioners,” their patients can be of varying ages, but most are adults.
Dentists who specialize in pediatric dentistry are “pediatric dentists.” Compared to general dentists, pediatric dentists have more education and training. For example, they have at least two extra years of extra training under their belt.
This extra education involves training for age-specific oral health care needs.
For example, pediatric dentists-in-training learn about dental issues common to children. A perfect example is thumb sucking, which experts say 70% to 90% of kids do. Another is fluorosis, usually affecting younger children who consume excessive amounts of fluoride.
Pediatric dentists are also experts in child-specific tooth decay causes and treatments. They received specialized education for handling children’s fear of the dentist. Dental fear and anxiety are quite common, affecting 5% to 20% of kids worldwide.
What Type of Services Do Pediatric Dentists Provide?
Pediatric dentists are experts in oral health exams for infants, kids, and teens. They also deliver child-oriented diagnostic and preventive oral health care. Moreover, they specialize in dental restorations and teeth straightening suitable for young patients.
Infant Oral Examinations
A pediatric dental specialist is the best choice for infant oral examinations. It’s a test used to assess infants and babies for any dental anomalies. For instance, kids’ dentists can see if there are cysts in a baby’s oral cavity.
On that note, “Epstein pearls” are some of the most common dental issues in newborns. Experts say that these light yellow cysts on the gums and roof of the mouth affect 60% to 85% of newborn infants.
Granted, most cases of Epstein pearls are harmless and disappear after a week or two. However, there are harmful conditions that look like these cysts. An example is an oral thrush, a fungal infection that forms white or yellowish bumps in the mouth.
That’s why it’s vital for parents to have their little ones get an infant oral exam.
Monitoring of the Oral-Facial Development
Pediatric dentists are experts in children’s oral-facial growth and development. This expertise comes from their extra training that general dentists don’t receive.
Part of children’s dentists’ role is to monitor children’s teeth, face, jaws, and airways. They’re always on the lookout for signs of growth issues that may affect these parts of the upper body. They help ensure that the oral-facial area grows to its “best genetic potential.”
Keep in mind that many parts of the mouth and face develop by up to 90% or more from ages 5 to 12. After this, they can be harder to guide or alter, especially the locations of adult teeth. The same goes for malocclusions (misalignment of the teeth) or improper bites.
If not treated early, children will carry their bad bite or crooked teeth into adulthood. There are now many corrective services for these issues, but they are more expensive. You can help your little one avoid these by having them receive early dentistry for kids.
Speaking of teeth misalignment, these issues affect at least 20% of people worldwide. However, this is preventable with early detection and alteration, such as through braces.
If your child has a bad bite, a child’s dentist can diagnose it right away. From there, the dentist can develop an orthodontic plan to correct your little one’s bite.
Tooth decay affects an estimated 60% to 90% of schoolchildren worldwide. That makes dental cavities the most common kind of oral disease in children. It’s also one of the key reasons for premature teeth loss and unhealthy gums in kids.
Pediatric dentists aim to prevent tooth decay through treatments like dental cleanings. They also help protect children’s teeth through expert fluoride applications.
Pediatric dentists specialize in the treatment of tooth cavities in their young patients. If your child has early-stage decay, the dentist may still reverse it by applying fluoride. Early treatment may help the enamel heal itself without needing dental fillings.
However, keep in mind that “baby” or temporary teeth have more sensitive enamel. This is why baby teeth can be more prone to decay. It’s also for this reason that your little one can benefit from seeing a dentist at least twice a year.
If the cavity is too big, a kid’s dentist can still save the tooth by using dental fillings. This helps prevent the decay from worsening and causing early tooth loss. Don’t worry, as children’s dentists now use tooth-colored fillings for children.
Help Your Little One Keep Their Permanent Teeth for Life
There you have it, your guide on pediatric dentistry and how important it is for your little ones. By joining hands with a kid’s dentist, you can help protect your kid’s oral health all the way to adulthood. So, as early as now (or by the time your kid turns one), set a date with a child’s dentist.
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