Growing Great Grins

Straight Answers About Dentistry Just for Kids

By Samantha Gluck

How is pediatric dentistry different from regular dentistry?

Dentists and pediatric dentists go through the same rigorous education and training at dental school. After graduation, pediatric specialists continue training for two to three years in a pediatric dentistry residency program. The training provides many hours of hands-on experience with the unique aspects of treating children. Residents gain valuable insight into how to help little patients relax and relieve any anxiety they may feel. I always say that my job involves about 30 percent actual dentistry and 70 percent helping kids have a good experience every time they visit.

What’s the best age to start bringing a child in for checkups?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists recommends children start regular dental visits when they turn one. I tend to agree and not just because the academy says so. It’s best if we can see kids when they’re still babies to check for any emerging issues, even before they get all their teeth. I recommend bi-annual visits starting at 12 to 18 months, to help kids become accustomed to all the dental office sounds, lights, smells, and tools. If you wait until children are four, five, or six years old and they have several cavities, they have several cavities, they won’t have the advantage of acculturation. This often leads to the child experiencing unnecessary anxiety and fear.

What is laser dentistry?

Laser technology is amazing, especially in medical applications. Dental laser technology allows dentists to speed up procedures, decrease pain, and improve healing. If there’s one tool in my dental toolbox that I’m not willing to do without ever again, it’s the laser. It allows me to perform most procedures without as many painful shots of local anesthesia. By using a special technique, the laser harnesses the power of physics and biochemistry to numb the tooth. This greatly reduces the number of shots required.

What accommodations do special needs kids require at dental visits?

I probably define special needs a little differently than others. While we do absolutely see little patients with a traditional special needs diagnosis, some of my special needs patients don’t fit within the traditional definition, they just need a little extra love and attention. Maybe they can’t handle sensations in the mouth or naturally have a more anxious personality. It’s important to remember the dentist isn’t the main component of the visit. Having an amazing dental team with the experience to get an accurate read on a child is essential to successful visits.

Many dentists use sedation dentistry, but is it safe?

The short answer is yes. We learn about the various levels of sedation, the drugs involved, and appropriate applications for kids in residency training. The goal with any child is to use these tools in the most minimal way possible. An experienced and trained pediatric dentist knows which drugs and combinations work best and can recognize whether a particular child is a good candidate or not. Every pediatric dentist who uses sedation should put the dental team through quarterly emergency drills and attend regular continuing education courses.


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