Definition and Overview

Paediatric dentistry is a specialized field that focuses on the dental needs of infants, children and teens. Paediatric dentists undergo additional two to three years of education and training and are thus fully equipped to properly handle their patients. Young people, particularly toddlers and young children, need different types of treatment than adults, and it is important for paediatric dentists to gain the trust of their patients so that dental visits will not be a traumatic experience for them.

The best way to maintain excellent oral and dental health is to instill the habit early on in children, which is why it is essential for young people to appreciate their paediatric dentist visits. Most paediatric dental clinics are specifically designed to keep children entertained and make them feel comfortable while staff members are trained to ease children’s anxiety over the procedures. When kids are calm and cooperative, oral and dental examinations proceed without a hitch, making the process a breeze for the kids, parents and dentists.

The main objective of paediatric dental visit is preventive maintenance. The goal is not just to take care of children’s teeth from the moment they erupt but also take care of the gums and the mouth as they also contribute to a child’s overall oral health. Paediatric dentistry covers a comprehensive list of treatments and services that ensures long-term excellent oral and dental health.

During this visit, the paediatric dentist may:

  • Create a “dental home” where routine dental visits can take place on a regular basis
  • Perform oral health exams and risk assessment of potential dental caries (tooth decay)
  • Assess and treat crooked teeth and improper bite
  • Carry out preventive measures like cleaning, fluoride applications and sealants
  • Provide oral habit guidance and counseling regarding the use of pacifiers, thumb sucking, bottle feeding and erupting teeth, among others
  • Provide guidance on brushing and flossing
  • Teach the importance of a healthy diet and proper nutrition to achieve optimum oral health
  • Prevent dental injuries through the use of assistive devices and treatment
  • Monitor and manage early gum diseases

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

The first paediatric dental preventive visit takes place as soon as the first baby tooth comes out and should not be later than when the baby is a year old. Basically, that’s between 6 months and one year. It may be surprising to hear about babies and infants going to the dentist at this age, but the goal is to develop the habit of going to the dentist and being comfortable in his presence so that future visits will be uneventful. Parents can also learn techniques that can protect their infant’s teeth and mouth from cavity and injury.

Regular paediatric dental visits are crucial after the first visit to better monitor the child’s oral and dental health. It is especially beneficial when the child turns 6 or 7 years old since it is during this period that baby teeth start getting replaced by permanent teeth. The paediatric dentist can assess the health of the new permanent teeth and prevent any potential threats to them with regular visits. Permanent teeth need to be cared for and maintained well because these will last through adulthood.

Teenagers are also candidates for these dental visits as they are at an age where physical appearance matters and what stands out is having a great smile and perfect teeth. At this point, the permanent teeth have all erupted. If needed, assistive devices, like braces and retainers, can be used to correct poorly positioned teeth. The temptation to eat unhealthy junk food is also a threat to a teenager’s diet and dental health and thus, must be minimized.

Children with special needs also benefit from these dental visits. They require a different skill set to make them comfortable with dental procedures and paediatric dentists are aware of this as they are trained to handle such circumstances. Paediatric dentists are equipped to gain their trust to ensure a comfortable and even pleasurable dental visit.

How Does the Procedure Work

The first paediatric dentist preventive visit occurs when the baby is a year old or even earlier. The primary goal at this point is to create a comfortable “dental home” for the child so that future visits will proceed without any trouble. Thus, a child is encouraged to relax and be comfortable. The dental clinic is usually designed to exude a calming yet fun environment for children. Parents are expected to remain with their child throughout the procedure and will have to hold them during the oral examination.

Prior to the dental appointment, parents are encouraged to build excitement toward the big day so that the child will be ready and prepared. It is best not to show fear or nervousness because children can easily pick up on this feeling and will likely feel it themselves. Parents may bring a toy or snack to keep the child from being bored and becoming fussy.

The oral examination is pretty simple at this point. The paediatric dentist will examine the child’s mouth and assess the risk of developing tooth decay. If there is none and the child has a healthy mouth, the paediatric dentist can proceed in teaching the parents oral hygiene practices that they can perform at home to prevent tooth decay. If the paediatric dentist sees threats to the health of the teeth, treatment, such as fluoride application, may be prescribed and performed. Effective brushing techniques may also be taught.

Future visits will most likely follow the same routine, except that parents may leave their child in the care of the paediatric dentist and the staff during procedures and treatments unless the child becomes nervous and anxious. Treatments will be decided based on necessity and importance. For instance, dental cleanings and polishing may be performed for maintenance while fluoride treatments and sealants may be done for preventive measures. Adolescent patients may also need mouth guards to prevent injuries when they’re participating in rough sports. Should patients require braces or retainers, they will be referred to an orthodontist.

Possible Complications and Risks

A paediatric dentist preventive visit normally does not carry any significant risk. However, first visits may induce certain anxiety in kids especially if they’re not used to facing strangers but this may be prevented if the child is given ample time to get used to his surroundings and is not forced to adapt in any way.

References:

  • Chou R, Cantor A, Zakher B, et al. Preventing dental caries in children <5 years: systematic review updating USPSTF recommendation. Pediatrics. 2013;132(2):332-50. PMID: 23858419 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23858419.

  • Douglass JM. A practical guide to infant oral health. Am Fam Physician. 2004;70:2113-20. PMID: 15606059 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15606059.

  • Ng MW. Early childhood caries: risk-based disease prevention and management. Dent Clin North Am. 2013; 57(1):1-16 PMID: 23174607 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23174607.

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