dental instruments and oral health

What is a Pediatric Dentist?

Pediatric dentistry is defined as the practice, teaching, and research of preventative oral care in children from birth through adolescence. In other words, pediatric dentists encompass all aspects of oral health care for developing children.

After a teenager turns 18 years old, they will no longer receive treatment from a pediatric dentist. Instead, he or she will visit a general or family dentist.

Children should visit their pediatric dentist twice a year. And, these visits should begin within six months of an infant’s first tooth eruption. Common oral conditions that affect children include:

  • Dental caries, which are also called tooth decay or cavities
  • Gum diseases, including gingivitis (mild) and pediatric periodontal disease (advanced)
  • Dental erosion, also referred to as enamel erosion
  • Tooth development interruptions and other abnormalities, such as a cleft lip, palate, or both
  • Early orthodontic treatment corrects severe bite issues in children before all of their permanent teeth erupt
  • Physical damage to the face caused by traumatic injuries, such as car accidents

Children should see a pediatric dentist every six months for a comprehensive dental exam and teeth cleaning. In short, these exams help reduce the chance of disease by keeping the mouth and teeth healthy throughout life.

Pediatric dentists also offer specialized dental treatment for sick and disabled children.

Preventive and Restorative Pediatric Dental Care

Early Childhood Caries (ECC)

From 1970 to 1990, dental caries in baby teeth decreased in children between 2 and 11 years of age. Although, since the mid-1990s, research has shown an increase in primary tooth decay in young children.

The oral habits a child develops in the first three years of life (when primary teeth have fully erupted) may not be concerning to parents at the time. These habits can be difficult to break, even though the majority of children outgrow them over time.

If children establish dental care practices at home, they are less likely to develop cavities. These habits include fluoride use, brushing twice a day, and flossing regularly. If a child does have a cavity, it’s crucial to seek restorative treatment, such as fillings or crowns.

42% of Children (2 to 11 Yrs) Have Had Dental Caries in Baby Teeth.

23% of Children (2 to 11 Yrs) Have Untreated Dental Caries.

Fluoride Treatment

Since the introduction of fluoride, there has been a decrease in dental caries in children and adults.

Proper water fluoridation is also backed by over 70 years of research and is proven to be safe, effective, and healthy.

The right amount of fluoride in drinking water is 0.7 parts per million (ppm). However, excessive fluoride consumption can lead to dental fluorosis. Fluorosis is the hypomineralization of tooth enamel, which leads to abnormal enamel development (white or brown spots). The condition is commonly found in children, specifically during the first few years of tooth development.

Fluorosis does not pose health problems because the symptoms are mild and curable. Although, pediatric dentists specialize in fluoride treatment for children who have fluorosis or low fluoride intake. For example, treatments include:

bottle of dietary fluoride supplements

Dietary Fluoride Supplementation

This type of fluoride treatment comes in a tablet form. It is only recommended for children who consume drinking water that is low in fluoride or have a high risk of developing cavities.

applying topical fluoride to protect tooth enamel

Topical Fluoride Therapy

This type of fluoride treatment is for children between 3 and 6 years of age. This includes self-applied fluoride toothpaste and professionally applied treatments, such as gels, pastes, and varnishes. Topical treatments are used to prevent dental decay and are completed during a pediatric dental exam or teeth cleaning.

Preventive and Restorative Dental Care

Using fluoride daily is essential for every child, especially in the early stages of life. If a child already has serious signs of decay or other oral diseases, more invasive preventive treatments are necessary.

Fluoride helps reduce plaque buildup. It also prevents tooth decay and even tooth loss.

Depending on the severity of the decay, pediatric treatment options may include:

tooth cavity being filled graphic

Fillings

Cavity fillings are the most common restorative treatment for children who have minor cavities. They are also minimally invasive and completed within one dentist visit.

dental instrument removing infected dental pulp from a tooth's root graphic

Pulp Treatment

Pulp treatment is known as a baby root canal or pulp therapy. In short, it is used by pediatric dentists to treat, save, and restore a child’s decayed baby (primary) teeth.

dental sealant instrument graphic

Sealants

If a child has deep pits and grooves in their baby (primary) teeth, a sealant might be placed to prevent tooth decay. However, sealants are usually not placed on permanent teeth because they aren’t strong enough.

Stainless Steel Crowns (SSCs)

Stainless steel crowns are used to protect a child’s molars (back primary teeth) that haven’t formed properly or are heavily decayed. Although, sometimes pediatric dentists have to put SSCs on front teeth.

three teeth with one being extracted graphic

Tooth Extractions and Space Maintainers

Tooth extractions, or the removal of a tooth, is usually caused by trauma, disease, crowding, or tooth decay. Space maintainers are then placed where the extracted tooth was to ensure the child’s permanent tooth grows in correctly.

tooth enamel erosion graphic

Dental Erosion

Dental erosion is the irreversible loss of tooth enamel. It is caused by excessive exposure to acidic liquids and food (with a pH below 5.0-5.7). Pediatric dentists commonly treat erosion in children because baby (primary) teeth are more susceptible to the condition than permanent teeth. This is because the primary teeth enamel is thinner and less mineralized.

The prevalence of dental erosion in children ranges from 10 to 80 percent. In most cases, treatment isn’t needed. Your pediatric dentist may recommend changes in lifestyle, behavior, and diet. Although, if the condition becomes severe, fillings are typically necessary. Common types of fillings include amalgam or composite restorations.

swollen gums due to gingivitis graphic

Chronic Gingivitis

Chronic gingivitis is characterized by inflammation occurring in the gingival tissues with no loss of bone or attachment. Symptoms of gingivitis in children may include:

  • Bleeding easily, especially while flossing or brushing your teeth
  • Erythema, which means “redness”
  • Edema, which means “swelling”

While gingivitis is a serious condition, it appears less in the early primary dentition (baby teeth). This is because children have less plaque buildup than adults. However, for children who do have gingivitis, a pediatric dentist will recommend professional dental care treatment, brushing, and flossing.

mouth with a dental instrument scaling and root planing graphic

Pediatric Periodontal Disease

If gingivitis is left untreated, it can turn into pediatric periodontal disease (PD), a serious oral disease affecting the gums and jaw bone. Common symptoms of periodontal disease include red, receding, and bleeding gums.

The long-term buildup of plaque, due to poor oral hygiene, results in the formation of calculus (hardened plaque). As a result, PD can form over time.

This condition is also mostly diagnosed in teenagers and adults. Treatment options for PD may include:

Scaling and Root Planing

In essence, this treatment is the process of cleaning between the teeth and gums (deep cleaning). More specifically, it eliminates gum disease-causing bacteria and helps the teeth reattach to the gums.