Whether your child is sporting a gummy grin studded with just a couple of freshly-sprouted teeth or already has a mouthful of pearly whites, getting regular dental care with a dentist she's comfortable with can help ensure that she maintains a healthy smile as she grows. As with your child's pediatrician, you'll want to choose a competent, patient pro who is adept at working with children to care for your little one.
Pediatric dentists have completed two to three years of training beyond dental school and are well-versed in child psychology, growth, and development, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). You can also expect them to offer a welcoming staff and a cheerful office -- often complete with kid-size play equipment, popular video games, and a waiting room full of toys and kids' books. Other child-friendly details such as sunglasses to shield kids' eyes from the bright lights during an exam, toothbrushes with characters, and favorite shows playing on televisions can make the visit less intimidating and more enjoyable for kids.
To find a pediatric dentist in your area, ask your child's pediatrician, other parents, or your own dentist for recommendations. Local pharmacists and family doctors can also sometimes give you a few names. If you are relocating, ask your child's current dentist if he can refer you to someone in your new hometown. Another great resource: Search for local practitioners by zip code with the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry's "Find a pediatric dentist" tool at aapd.org. The American Dental Association offers a similar service (you can modify your search to specify a pediatric dentist) at mouthhealthy.org.
If you have a child with special needs, she may require much more support. Look for a dentist who is especially patient and compassionate, because a child's reactions to even the mildest of treatments can be extreme. Ask how he or she has handled difficult situations, and whether she has experience in treating children in a hospital setting. If a child with autism, for example, needs extensive dental treatment, it may need to be done at a hospital and could require restraint and/or mild sedation.
When You Can't Find a Pediatric Dentist
Unfortunately, not every area has practicing pediatric dentists. If that's the case where you live, ask other parents, neighbors, coworkers, or your child's pediatrician for names of family or general dentists they like. "Many general dentists enjoy treating children and are comfortable providing their dental care," says Edward H. Moody, Jr., DDS, vice president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and a board-certified pediatric dentist in Morristown, Tennessee. You can find one by asking other parents or your child's pediatrician for recommendations. You'll want to choose someone who is patient, experienced in working with kids, knowledgeable about child development and skilled in calming apprehensive young patients.
Evaluating the Office
Once you've gotten the name of a dentist you want to try, meeting her in person and seeing the office can help you determine if she is the right fit for your child. Consider these questions from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Before the visit, ask the office:
- Does the dentist have special training or interest in treating children?
- Is the dentist a member of the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry?
- Is the dental office set up for children? For example, does it offer toys, books, games, or child-sized furniture?
- How does the dental office manage emergencies? (Many practices have an answering service available during off hours.)
- Is the office conveniently located near your home or your child's school?
- Does the practice accept your dental benefit plan?
After the visit, ask yourself:
- Was your child seen promptly?
- Were you asked for a complete medical and dental history for your child?
- Was the dentist gentle but thorough when examining your child's mouth?
- Did the dentist or staff talk to your child, encouraging her involvement in dental health?
- Were you informed about your child's tooth development, the causes and prevention of dental disease, and appropriate dental care at home?
- Were your questions treated with concern and respect?
- Was the visit positive for your child?
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