What's the difference between a pediatric dentist and a regular dentist?

A dentist is a doctor of oral health. Generally, three or more years of undergraduate education plus four years of dental school is required to graduate and become a general dentist. Pediatric dentists are the pediatricians of dentistry. A pediatric dentist has two to three years specialty training following dental school and limits his/her practice to treating children only. Pediatric dentists are primary and specialty oral care providers for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health needs.

In the United States, pediatric dentists complete a minimum of a two year full time intensive residency training in all phases of pediatric dental medicine and surgery. Their training includes treatment of medically compromised children, treatment of children under sedation and anesthesia, management of growth and development issues related to the mouth, head and face. Perhaps most importantly, pediatric dental specialists are uniquely trained to manage both the necessary preventive and invasive dental treatment of a child in the least traumatic and most child sensitive and friendly way. They are the most highly trained dental professionals in prevention and advocate for active preventive measures for infants starting with eruption of the first teeth before the first birthday. Hence pediatric dentists are the best trained clinicians to help prevent oral disease, morbidity and most importantly caries (cavities) in children. When it comes to treating active dental disease, caries and tooth decay, they are far more likely to provide definitive, comprehensive and an atraumatic treatment of dental disease in children.

That said there are general dentists that have over time chosen to primarily work with children, have attended continuing education in pediatric dental care and are proficient in delivering high quality preventive and invasive dental treatment to children. A general dentist's expertise and experience in treating children is however more difficult to discern for the general consumer and may require extra research for the parents. A general dentist willingness and ability to provide an effective preventive treatment for toddlers and one year olds is one good sign of competence in pediatric dental care. Another sign would be the ability to provide dental treatment with minimal or IV sedation when a difficult treatment is necessary.

In the case of adolescents, unlike adolescent medicine, a sub-specialty of pediatric medicine, no such subspecialty exists in dentistry. Adolescents are known to have unique health care related to the rapid growth and developmental changes they experience during their transition from being children to young adults. These needs are no less unique if not far more so when it comes to one's dental and craniofacial health and wellness. Pediatric dentists, although not as well trained in treating adolescents, are still the most qualified dental providers to address their needs. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.