Pediatric dentistry is a specialty whose practitioners treat young patients, from birth to adolescence. Pediatric dentists educate parents about their children’s dental health while also treating and educating the children themselves. Pediatric medical and dental authorities universally recommend that children should visit the dentist for the first time within six months following the emergence of the child’s first tooth, or by their first birthday, depending on the dental development of the individual child. This is important in establishing a comfortable, continuous relationship between the child and their dentist, which is vital to detecting tooth decay in its early stages and to helping children establish the foundation for a lifetime of healthy oral hygiene. Early detection and intervention can help modify unhealthy habits while treating existing health issues, and parents can learn important information about hygiene, injury prevention, and developmental concerns.
The first pediatric dental practice in the United States was established in 1909. Since then, the field has expanded to address a broad spectrum of pediatric dental needs. Pediatric dentists can diagnose disease of the mouth and teeth, using x-rays and other diagnostic tools, and they can correct misalignment and bite problems with orthodontic treatment. They create treatment plans to restore pediatric patients to health, and they promote healthy habits for children and adolescents, sometimes working with patients with chronic illness or disability. Pediatric dentists treat tooth decay and infection while monitoring the development and health of the teeth and the jaws, and they treat and repair teeth and other parts of the mouth that may be damaged through injury or trauma. They are also qualified to perform surgical procedures on the teeth and in the mouths of children who are under varying degrees of sedation. While the primary concern of pediatric dentists is preventing tooth decay, they also examine the entire head, neck, and jaw of their patients to determine if there are any congenital anomalies present that may pose problems in the future. They can also check for oral cancer and perform any necessary biopsies.
Pediatric dentistry is a dental specialty that requires additional training above and beyond dental school. Pediatric dentistry residency programs last at least two years; some take longer to complete. The training in these residency programs address oral health care, as any dentistry program would, in addition to teaching behavior management, many different types of dentistry, and injury management, all related to every stage of a child’s development from infancy to adolescence. A significant portion of a pediatric dentistry residency program is a clinical requirement, in which the dental student treats young patients in a clinical setting. Once this residency program is completed, the dental student sits for the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry exam; successful completion grants board certification and allows the pediatric dentist to practice as a certified pediatric dentist. Many pediatric dentists own private practices, and some pediatric dentists take advantage of the opportunity to teach future pediatric dentists in residency programs, which increases job prospects for pediatric dentists while also allowing them to share the important knowledge related to effective pediatric dentistry.