Pediatric dentists encompass all aspects of oral health care for developing children. They perform many different types of procedures, depending on each child’s needs and medical history.
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that children and adults should visit a dentist for regular exams and teeth cleanings at least twice a year (every six months). Parents should begin scheduling dentist visits within six months of a baby’s first tooth eruption, typically between 6 months and 1 year of age.
During a pediatric dental exam, a child’s mouth is examined for signs of early childhood caries (ECC), gingivitis, pediatric periodontal disease, dental erosion, and other oral conditions. If cavities are detected, dental fillings, stainless steel crowns, or extractions will be recommended, depending on the severity of the decay. X-rays and disease screenings are also commonly used, depending on the patient’s age and medical history.
Fluoride is a mineral found in rocks and soil. During exams, dental hygienists apply topical fluoride to your child's teeth after a professional teeth cleaning, which helps prevent cavities and keeps primary tooth enamel strong. Fluoride reduces the risk of dental plaque formation and buildup, which can result in tooth decay over time.
Early childhood caries (ECC) are light brown in color and commonly appear on the biting surfaces of primary molars. They can also form on anterior teeth, such as incisors or canines.
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The bacteria from untreated tooth decay in a primary tooth can also spread to other teeth, which results in more serious oral health conditions. To prevent the spread of cavities, there are two restorative treatment options available for children. These include amalgam fillings and composite fillings.
Baby teeth may need to be extracted if they are severely decayed or damaged due to an injury. Another common reason for extractions is when primary teeth become over-retained, which is when teeth loosen and then tighten back into the gums, preventing the eruption of permanent teeth.
When a child prematurely loses a primary tooth due to decay, disease, or damage, space maintainers are often used to keep the space open in the gums. Space maintainers also prevent overcrowding and misalignment as permanent teeth grow in.
Sealants cover the chewing (occlusal) surfaces of back molars and form “physical barriers” on the pits and fissures of teeth. They are an effective, safe, and painless way to protect a child's teeth from developing cavities for up to 10 years. Adults can also get sealants on their permanent teeth, but this treatment is less common.
Stainless steel crowns (SSC) are metal caps that restore decayed, damaged, or fractured baby molars. If cavity fillings are likely to fail, SSCs are typically the next best solution for restoring a child’s tooth because they are durable and strong. In some cases, they are also used to temporarily restore and protect a child’s permanent tooth until a permanent crown is created.
Adults cannot get SSCs placed on their permanent teeth because they are weaker than other types of crowns.
Mouthguards are commonly made for children, especially those involved in athletics. They are protective devices that minimize the risk of injuries to the teeth, face, lips, jaw, gums, and surrounding soft tissues.
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Ahlin, Jeffrey H. Maxillofacial Orthopedics: a Clin. Approach for the Growing Child. Quintessence Publ., 2003.
Fluoridation Facts. American Dental Association, 2018.
Koch Göran, et al. Pediatric Dentistry: a Clinical Approach. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2017.
Nowak, Arthur J. Pediatric Dentistry: Infancy through Adolescence. Elsevier, 2019.