How to Choose the Right Dentist for Your Child

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that kids should visit a pediatric dentist when their first tooth comes in or no later than their first birthday. 

Here's how to choose the right dental professional to help you keep your kid's teeth in tip-top condition. 

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Finding a pediatric dentist

The best way to find a good pediatric dentist is to ask around, pediatric dentist Dr. Sharadha Avula tells SheKnows. Get recommendations from friends and family, ask your own dentist, the family pediatrician or day care center for a referral, and check out reviews on local websites and social media community pages. 

According to the AAPD, a pediatric dentist has two to three years specialty training following dental school and limits their practice to treating infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health needs. The AAPD has a search tool to help you find pediatric dentists in your area.

"Pediatric dentists are quite different from general dentists because they are specially trained to treat children’s developing teeth and potential issues unique to children," Dr. Kami Hoss, founder of The Super Dentists pediatric dental office in San Diego, tells SheKnows. "They are also trained to understand child behavior and development, making them better equipped to treat children."

Hoss recommends visiting pediatric dentist offices in your area to explore what each one offers. "Look at the type of equipment and techniques used at the office," she advises. "Many offices may use adult-sized equipment designed for adult-sized mouths, which can lead to unnecessary pain or discomfort and can also be extremely intimidating for kids. Try to opt for an office that utilizes small exam chairs and small equipment specially designed for a child’s mouth."

Ask the pediatric dentist how they make children feel comfortable and create a friendly relationship with them and what technology and techniques they use in the office.

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What to expect

Your child's first visit to a pediatric dentist should involve a comprehensive oral exam, which includes providing appropriate anticipatory guidance for the child, counseling and a 'caries' risk assessment, which helps dentists identify risk factors and early signs of dental decay.

"Parents should expect a pediatric dentist to create a welcoming environment for their child and explain clearly what to expect during the duration of the visit," says Hoss. "Pediatric dentists will also advise parents on the best way to encourage good dental health habits from an early age as well as educate parents on dental concerns specific to children and the development of their teeth and jaws."

Your child's dental care

From infancy through adolescence, your child should receive the following care from their pediatric dentist: 

  • Oral exams and risk assessment for cavities for infants
  • Repair of tooth cavities or other tooth defects
  • Preventive dental care, including cleaning, sealants and fluoride treatment
  • Assessment of normal tooth development
  • Assessment of the need for orthodontics to straighten teeth or correct improper bite
  • Management and prevention of gum diseases, including periodontal disease and gingivitis
  • Management of dental and oral conditions, including short frenula and ulcers
  • Care of knocked-out, fractured or displaced teeth

In addition, your pediatric dentist should advise you on how to deal with dental habits — such as thumb-sucking, teeth-grinding or pacifier use — and educate you on how to ensure your kids take good care of their teeth at home. 

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Dental care at home

Your child's dentist will talk to you about the proper care of children's teeth, including how diet and drinks affect your child's teeth, and will demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss, and the at-home care of your child's teeth is crucial. 

"Start cleaning your child's teeth as soon as they come in," says Avula. When your child is old enough to brush their own teeth, teach them to brush two times a day for at least two minutes. (Be prepared to supervise tooth-brushing until you're confident they can do it right.) Give your child healthy snacks and drinks instead of sticky, sugary foods and drinks that can lead to tooth decay. Also, lead by example and take great care of your own dental health.   

Hoss suggests rewarding your kids for taking care of their teeth and making their dental hygiene routine fun to ensure they take care of their teeth. "Parents can make up a game to go along with brushing, crank up the music or even read them a story," he says. "These simple tips can make brushing fun and teach the child stick to a routine." 

Don't forget to take your kids to their dentist every six months to make sure everything is A-OK in their developing mouths.  

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