Helping their children form healthy lifestyle habits is one of the main goals of any conscientious parent. That includes exercise, good eating habits and proper dental hygiene. Children can begin brushing their own teeth as soon as they're able, and should have their first visit with a pediatric dentist at about the age of 1. Pediatric dentists are specialists in children's dental care and development, from infancy through adolescence.
Assessment and Planning
During visits during the earliest years, pediatric dentists lay the groundwork for lifelong dental care. They'll perform a dental examination at the first visit, looking for gum disease, deformities of the jaw or signs of more serious conditions such as pediatric periodontal disease or diabetes. A pediatric dentist can advise parents if there's a likelihood their toddler will need orthodontia later in childhood, give expert advice on managing pacifier use and thumb-sucking and coach them on diet and other dental risk factors.
Preventive and Prophylactic Care
Much of a pediatric dentist's work revolves around prevention. Coaching parents and children in proper dental hygiene is part of that process, but dentists also perform a number of procedures designed to reduce the risk of cavities and other dental health issues. This includes regular cleanings, which remove any plaque buildup and give the dentist an opportunity to assess how well the child's teeth are regularly cleaned. Dentists also apply fluoride to strengthen the child's tooth enamel or sealants to protect the enamel from decay.
A 2003 publication by the U.S. Department of Health reported that more than 50 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 9 had at least one cavity or filling, and by the age of 17 that rises to 78 percent. Pediatric dentists are responsible for detecting and filling those cavities. They also perform root canals on unhealthy teeth and provide periodontal care to children with gum disease. Pediatric dentists might extract teeth to allow a child's bite to straighten out, though they'll refer significant bite or jaw-alignment issues to an orthodontist. Pediatric dentists also repair split, broken and damaged teeth resulting from childhood accidents.
Like doctors, dentists begin their careers with a four-year undergraduate degree and then a four-year doctoral degree from a dental college. Colleges award either a Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine degree, but the two are identical. After completing their degrees, aspiring pediatric dentists must spend at least two additional years training for pediatric dentistry, in either a pediatric residency or a college-based master's degree or doctoral degree program. The American Board of Pediatric Dentistry administers a two-part board certification process, requiring candidates to first pass a written exam and then an oral exam.
- Healthy Children.org: What Is a Pediatric Dentist?
- Consumer Guide to Dentistry: Pediatric Dentistry -- Dental Care for Children and Infants
- American Medical Association: Health Care Careers Directory -- Dentist
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: National Call to Action to Promote Oral Health
- American Dental Association: Pediatric Dentistry
- American Board of Pediatric Dentistry: Exams/Applications
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