Tooth decay is the most common childhood disease, so finding a good dental home is paramount in achieving dental health. Much like well-visits with a pediatrician, regular dental check-ups should be a priority. And starting dental care early can help promote a positive life-long dental experience.
Referrals are very helpful when choosing a dentist and a good place to start is by asking your pediatrician. Friends and family with kids can also be good resources. If you’re looking specifically for a pediatric dentist, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has a great search feature by location.
Both family dentists and pediatric dentists can see pediatric patients. However, a pediatric dentist received two additional years of training pertaining to pediatric dental needs and psychology; he or she may be better prepared to address pediatric-specific dental issues including thumb-sucking.
It is a good idea to consider location as well, especially when your child is new to the dentist and may need to go more frequently than every six months. Once you have some recommendations, it is a good idea to visit the practice to get a feel for the atmosphere before choosing a dental home.
While credentials may be of utmost importance to parents, a child’s first impression will be the waiting room and staff they meet upon arrival to the dental practice. An office with books for kids to look at and cheerful imagery will go a long way in reducing anxiety. Some small things like a step stool in the bathroom, no cavity clubs, positive reinforcement treats/stickers, and sunglasses to wear when under the bright lights can make kids feel welcome too.
Ask questions to find out who will be cleaning your child’s teeth; regardless of whether it is the dentist or the hygienist, make sure that person has experience with kids of all ages. Ask how he or she responds to a child who has some anxiety at the dentist and if you think your child may fit that bill, plan ahead and see if there is anything you can do to prepare your child. Determine what is included at the first visit and how frequently the dentist typically sees a child. Inquire as to what imaging studies may be routine and how often they are recommended. Finally, ask how the dentist handles after-hours emergencies.
As we observe pediatric dental care month, take the time to find a dental home and protect your child’s smile for years to come.
– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of three young children and volunteers with the Parenting Program.