Pediatric Dentist: Nice To Have Or Need To Have?

As a mom who works for a large, local dental organization, there is one question moms ask me all the time, “Do my kids need to see a pediatric dentist?” What better time to answer that question than during Children’s Dental Health Month – a month dedicated to promoting the benefits of good oral health to children, their caregivers, teachers, and many others. While I’m not a dentist, I’ve worked with hundreds of them, but maybe more importantly, I’ve researched this issue for my own family. So here we go, pediatric dentist: nice to have or need to have?

What is a pediatric dentist?

A pediatric dentist is a dentist who completed an additional two to three years of specialized training after they earned their DDS or DMD degree. Those additional years are spent focusing on the unique needs of kids of all ages and those with special health needs. They study child development, child psychology, child-related pharmacology, and how to care for patients with special needs. That extra training makes them the authorities on those little mouth. But, it’s not just the training that makes them good with kids – most pediatric dentists flat out love kids. Many times it’s obvious by their demeanor. Many times you’ll see that same trait in their staff, as well. Usually their offices are more kid friendly, with smaller chairs, fun decor, kid treats, and sometimes even kid friendly movies and music. Their focus is about making a connection with kiddos and helping kids learn to love going to the dentist.

That’s not to say that good dental care for kids can only be provided by a pediatric dentist. There are loads of General Practitioners (GPs) who love kids and are great with them. Your family dentist (yes, the one you see) can see your child; any GP can see kids, but kids simply aren’t their specialty. It’s like this, your family doctor can see your kids, but they don’t specialize in kids. In many cases, taking your kids to your GP is a terrific solution – you already have a relationship with and trust them, but, not all GPs want to see kids. You’ll want to make sure you find out before your child is sitting in that big dental chair!

Child in dentist chair

Some Kids Need To See A Pediatric Dentist

Even if your GP sees kids, there are some children who should see a pediatric specialist. Any child with special needs will benefit from seeing a pediatric specialist. If your kiddo has special health needs or behavioral challenges, they should be seen by a pediatric dentist. If your child is just extra nervous about seeing the dentist, you might want to consider a specialist, as well. And it’s a must to see a pediatric dentist if your child’s teeth have a lot of decay or other serious dental issues. 

Whatever you choose, both GPs and Pediatric Dentists will agree, the most important thing is having your child see a dentist early (yes, when that first tooth erupts) and often. Believe it or not, decay can start as soon as that first comes through! Getting your kiddo to the dentist when they are young not only helps them keep their mouth healthy, it helps them gain comfort with going to the dentist, its helps them learn good oral health habits, and it can help them avoid future dental anxiety.

Still not sure which one to choose? Here are a few tips to help you make a decision.

  • Ask your mom tribe who their kids see.
  • Ask your pediatrician for a recommendation, they often have suggestions.
  • When you have some referrals, check out the dentists’ reviews on Google, HealthGrades, and Facebook. When doing so, keep in mind people are more likely to complain than compliment – those reviews may not tell the entire story.
  • Check out the dentists’ licenses with the local regulatory agency to make sure they’re in good standing. In Colorado, it’s the Colorado Division of Regulatory Affairs (DORA).
  • Call the office and ask questions.
  • Ask if they offer a “happy visit” or a “get to know you visit” for kiddos under three, oftentimes they will at no charge. If they do, take advantage of it to check out the practice and more importantly, the dentist.
  • Check in with your insurance provider, you’ll pay less if the dentist is in network with your insurance plan.
  • While talking with the insurance company, confirm they cover visits with a pediatric dentist, some don’t and others have an age limit.
  • Finally, follow your gut; no one knows your child better than you.
Children Brushing Teeth

Image courtesy of Pixaby

Ultimately, there is no right answer to this one, it’s only important that you and your kiddos are comfortable with whichever dentist you choose. As the mom of three boys, I made the decision to include a pediatric dentist in our family’s health care. For me, knowing they had special expertise with the little ones meant the world to me. But, I’ve also worked with hundreds of dentists who I would absolutely trust with my kiddos.

So, pediatric dentist, nice to have or need to have? For most of us, this one is a nice to have; it’s a dentist who you trust that’s the need to have!


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