young patient at a pediatric dentist

If you’re looking to find the right dentist and establish a “dental home” for your family, you may wonder what the difference is between a pediatric dentist (a.k.a. a kids’ dentist) and a general dentist.

The first thing to know is that all dentists are qualified to treat children. There is no difference between the DDS, DMD or BDS degrees that both types of dentists hold. All dental school training includes understanding the developmental stages of mouth development, from the first tooth in infancy all the way through the arrival of wisdom teeth in late adolescence or early adulthood.

Children’s dentistry, known formally as pediatric dentistry, is a dental specialty recognized by the dental regulatory organizations in various countries. A dentist can call themselves a pediatric dentist if they have completed additional training that is specific to children.

A general dentist can provide the same checkups and cleanings for children that they would get at a pediatric dentist. They can also provide guidance and education to both children and their parents regarding good oral hygiene habits and diet and nutritional recommendations. This education helps to prevent pediatric dental caries, which is the clinical term for cavities and tooth decay in children’s teeth, and hopefully leads to a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.

Even if a general dentist’s practice includes both adults and children, you’ll often find that dentists try to make all ages feel welcome. This may include a kids’ corner or even a whole playroom, a toy basket, fun picture books or even video games. All of these kid-friendly touches make children feel welcome and at ease at the dentist, and probably helps parents feel more at ease too. For adults, many practices provide beverages such as coffee, tea or water and a selection of magazines to read while they wait.

Many pediatric dentists pursue the specialty simply because they enjoy working with children in particular and have the personality and patience for the job. However, many general dentists enjoy seeing patients of all ages, including adults, kids, teens and seniors. It is very rewarding to see a patient grow from their first tooth all the way to adulthood and then start treating that patient’s children!

Many families choose to have both the adults and children in their families visit the same dentist as a matter of convenience. This gives the family dentist the advantage of knowing the oral health history of each member of the family, and may even allow parents and kids to get check-ups at the same time. If you are a first time parent and it’s almost time for your child’s first check-up (6 months after the first tooth or by age 1, by the way), talk to the dentist about getting an appointment for your child.