To get your child on the right track for lifelong dental health we recommend you begin their dental visits around their first birthday. You can certainly visit your family dentist, especially if you and your family feel comfortable with them. But you also might want to consider a pediatric dentist for your child's dental needs.
What's the difference between a family dentist and a pediatric dentist? Both offer the same kind of prevention and treatment services like cleanings, fluoride applications or fillings. But like their counterparts in medicine — the family practice physician and pediatrician — the family dentist sees patients of all ages; the pediatric dentist specializes in care for children and teens only.
In this regard, pediatric dentists undergo additional training to address dental issues specifically involving children. Furthermore, their practices are geared toward children, from toys and child-sized chairs in the waiting room to “kid-friendly” exam rooms decorated to appeal to children.
While your family dentist could certainly do the same, pediatric dentists are also skilled in reducing the anxiety level that's natural for children visiting the dental office. This can be especially helpful if you have a special needs child with behavioral or developmental disorders like autism or ADHD. A pediatric dentist's soothing manner and the calm, happy environment of the office can go a long way in minimizing any related anxiety issues.
Your child may have other needs related to their oral health that could benefit from a pediatric dentist. Some children have a very aggressive form of dental caries disease (tooth decay) called early childhood caries (ECC). If not treated promptly, many of their teeth can become severely decayed and prematurely lost, leading to possible bite problems later in life. Pediatric dentists are well-suited to treat ECC and to recognize other developmental issues.
Again, there's certainly nothing wrong with taking your child to your family dentist, especially if a long-term relationship is important to you (your child will eventually “age out” with a pediatric dentist and no longer see them). It's best to weigh this and other factors such as your child's emotional, physical and dental needs before making a decision.