What’s the Difference Between a General and Pediatric Dentist?

Your child is approaching her first birthday and at the last well-check the pediatrician reminds you that it’s time for the first dentist checkup.

So where do you go?

You take your child to a pediatrician for medical care, but when it comes to dentistry you’re not sure if she should see a pediatric dentist or just go to your general family dentist.

Extra Options at a Pediatric Dentist Office

Pediatric dentists are general dentists who have gone on to complete an additional two to three years of formal training specializing in the care of children. Board-certified pediatric dentists complete a residency (usually in a hospital setting) and additional examinations before receiving their credentials.

Their offices are equipped to best handle younger patients as well as children with health issues or developmental delays. If anxiety or behavior is a concern, a pediatric dentist will usually have options for sedation or outpatient facilities that allow young children to get the care they need in a relaxed and safe manner.

Pediatric offices are designed with children in mind. They’re usually bright and colorful, open, and filled with amenities to keep kids entertained. There might even be televisions above the dental chairs to keep little eyes distracted. Because children are their focus, these teams know what works well when it comes to helping your child feel comfortable and confident during their visit.

Flexibility of a Family Dentist

A general dentist is trained in providing routine care to patients of all ages…even young children.

While general dentists are usually comfortable with providing ongoing preventive care, they may not offer as many restorative treatments (depending on the child’s age and development). Simple fillings are usually fine, or sometimes even nerve therapy. However, they might refer a child to a pediatric dentist if there’s an extremely complex need (such as multiple abscessed teeth) or significant behavioral concerns. Otherwise, most children do perfectly fine with your family dentist.

Plus, parents can enjoy the convenience of scheduling everyone’s appointments in one place, usually on the same day. This added benefit can save you valuable time without sacrificing the quality of oral health care your family is receiving.

Some dental offices offer the best of both worlds, employing both general dentists and pediatric dentists under the same roof.

How to Decide Whom to Take Your Child To

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I prefer that my entire family see the same dentist?
  • Does my child need a routine checkup, or are there serious dental problems involved?
  • Is there a particular reason why my child needs to see a specialist?
  • Does my family dentist see young children?

It doesn’t hurt to call your general dentist or the pediatric dentistry office you’re considering to “interview” them on the phone. Find out things like when their next opening is, what to expect at the first appointment, and if parents are allowed to go back in the clinical room with the child. Bottom line: go with your gut! Most kids do just well seeing the same family dentist their entire childhood.


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