Kids Dentistry: Expectations & Considerations

Dr Advocate Avatar IconBy: Dr. Advocate
Updated: March 6, 2023

Kids Dentistry | Cute little girl sitting in Children's Dentist chair having dental treatment

“Please” and “Thank you.” A healthy diet. A good night’s sleep. These habits are often developed early in life. Brushing and flossing are no different. Start early, and they become a lifelong habit that directly leads to better oral health.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, children should see a dentist within six months of their first tooth, so the child and parent to become familiar and comfortable with the dental office. During their visits, they’ll learn how to properly clean their teeth and understand what’s involved in preventing tooth decay. Parents and dentists have an essential responsibility to encourage children’s oral hygiene habits.

Let’s look at ways children can develop healthy habits for their oral health.

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Healthy habits

  • Limit sugary foods and drinks
  • Limit frequency of sugary foods and drinks
  • Brush twice a day
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
  • Consume recommended daily amount of water
  • No sugary drinks before naptime or bedtime
  • Visit a dentist every six months
  • Parents or caretakers need to see dentist (prevent bacteria transmission)

Children that see a dentist early on are more likely to develop the healthy habit of seeing a dentist into adulthood, resulting in healthy teeth, which are essential for increasing self-esteem, limiting mouth pain, and improving quality of life. Many general dentists are willing to treat kids in their practice; however, your child can see a pediatric dentist, also known as a pedodontist, if a referral is necessary.

Pediatric dentists are equipped to see children and people with special needs. The dental experience can have a lasting impact on children, for better or worse. Cultivate a beneficial experience for your child, so they will be comfortable seeing the dentist for years to come.

First visit expectations

Cute Little in kid's dentistry office giving high five to children's dentist

All children respond differently during their first dental visit. Some will have no problem leaning back in the dental chair and following commands from the dental team. Others may have a hard time looking at the dentist, let alone sitting alone in the dental chair.

Parents have an essential responsibility to set their children up for success at the dentist. A few weeks before their dental visit, discuss what they should expect to see, hear and feel. Most kids are better off learning about what’s to come rather than going in blindly.

If the child is comfortable sitting in the chair alone, praise them and reinforce their bravery. If a child has a difficult time, have the child sit on your lap while sitting in the chair. Your touch should be able to help them get through the appointment. The clinician will evaluate the teeth and soft tissue and confirm their health.

During this time, the clinician will work hard to “meet the mind” of the child and establish trust and comfort. Pediatric dentists are great at forming a connection with children in minutes. To encourage this relationship, let’s look at words to avoid at the dentist.

Recommended Reading: First Dental Visit Expectations | Kids

Words to avoid

  • Sharp
  • Poke
  • Pull
  • Hurt
  • Needle
  • Shot
  • Drill

Certain words can make children unnecessarily fearful. Dental visits should be geared toward excitement and curiosity rather than the unknown. Pediatric dentists complete an additional 2-3 years of residency after four years of dental school. Trust is an essential factor when it comes to working with children. With that being said, the child can quickly lose trust if communication is poor between the clinician, patient, and parent. Cultivate a positive environment, so the experience is non-threatening and inviting.

Let’s take a look at words to adopt during the dental visit.

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Words to adopt

  • Water gun: water sprayer
  • Sleepy juice: anesthetic
  • My dentist friend: dentist
  • Mr. Bumpy: dental drill
  • Pressure: pain
  • Mr. Slurpy: suction straw
  • Going for a ride: reclining chair
  • Sugar bugs: cavities

Communication is key

Pediatric dentists need to be great communicators, patient with children, full of energy, and efficient during treatment. They are trained to perform many types of procedures for children and treat kids with special needs. Often nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is needed to calm the child during the procedure. Laughing gas is safe and effective at allowing the dentist to practice without the child moving around. It’s essential to have a safe environment for both the child and the clinician. Let’s take a look at the most common dental procedures for kids.

Common procedures

  • Tooth-colored fillings
  • Stainless steel crowns
  • Pulpotomy/pulpectomy
  • Pulpotomy/pulpectomy
  • Extractions
  • Space maintainers
  • Sealants
  • Preventive dentistry

Kid's dentistry best practices | Pretty mother with her daughter brushing their teethChildren’s teeth erupt and fall out at different stages. There are 20 baby teeth, and the first tooth is typically lost between 6 and 7 years of age. Other than developing good habits, the purpose of a pediatric dentist is to prevent and treat decay, so it’s unable to affect the developing tooth.

If the cavity is small, the dentist can complete routine fillings; however, If the cavity is more extensive or the child is at an increased risk of decay, the child will need a full-coverage stainless steel crown (SSC). These crowns are completed chairside and may require removing the nerve tissue within the baby tooth. This procedure is called a pulpotomy or pulpectomy, depending on how much nerve tissue is removed. This treatment removes harmful bacteria and prevents early exfoliation (tooth loss).

If a tooth needs to be removed, the dentist will consider a space maintainer to hold the remaining teeth in position until a permanent tooth fills in the gap. A sealant is a tooth-colored coating that flows into the grooves of permanent molars to prevent cavities from forming. Sealants and fluoride are always advised because of their proven success in preventing tooth decay. Cleanings are also routinely performed and are essential to remove plaque and prevent calculus from forming.

Sedation dentistry

Children are fun, but they can be an adventure for a dentist during treatment. The #1 priority for all dentists is the safety and well-being of the patient. It’s challenging to ensure a safe environment if the child is moving or crying while the clinician is trying to work. The child may need sedation dentistry to keep the child safe and comfortable.

Oral conscious sedation is the most common type of sedation and requires the child to consume a liquid sedative upon arrival at the clinic. The child’s vitals will be monitored and recorded during all aspects of treatment. Sedation dentistry allows the clinician to be efficient with their time, and full mouth treatment can be completed. After treatment is completed, the child will be monitored until their vitals and responses are normal before heading home.

General anesthesia can also be utilized if the child requires more significant sedation or is medically compromised. This procedure will be performed in a hospital setting to monitor the child during the procedure. General anesthesia allows the clinician to complete all planned treatments in one sitting. Like conscious sedation, the clinician will monitor the child after the treatment is completed until they’re cleared to head home. Nitrous oxide, oral conscious sedation, and general anesthesia are available and effective and should be utilized.

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Going to the dentist can be scary and intimidating for many people, especially children. Rather than dealing with dental problems later, encourage your child to brush regularly and remember to schedule their dental appointments twice a year. Children will always have a better experience getting their teeth cleaned versus having a cavity filled.

As mentioned before, fluoride and sealants are exceptional at preventing cavities and remineralizing weakened enamel. The next time you need toothpaste, be sure to purchase one with an ADA seal so your children receive adequate amounts of fluoride on their teeth. Sealants should be applied on the first and second permanent molars after they erupt, around ages 6 and 12. This procedure is non-invasive and can be completed quickly with no discomfort.

Final thoughts

Children have the opportunity to develop good habits for their oral health; however, they can’t do it on their own. It requires parents that encourage daily brushing and a dentist who prevents dental decay. Has your child recently been diagnosed with needing dental work? Are you aware of all the treatment options available? My Dental Advocate’s team of board-certified dentists can provide a second opinion on your planned treatment. We look forward to bringing you peace of mind by verifying your treatment plan, suggesting an alternative, or answering your questions.

The more you know, the more healthy habits you can develop, saving you and your family from avoidable and potentially expensive dental procedures. Talk to your dental professional for more suggestions on improving oral health and check back for more blog posts and relevant information. Please share this site and let us know what else you’d like to know!