You might be able to gain an awareness of the demands of pediatric dentistry by observing a pediatric dentist at work. Work as a dental hygienist, dental assistant, or dental laboratory technician might lead to continued study in dentistry. Because of the nature of dentistry, developing good manual dexterity through sculpting or metalworking would be helpful to the prospective dentist. Also, consider volunteering in any medical environment to gain a feel for medical work. Even if you volunteer at a local hospital, for example, you’ll be able to work around medical staff and discover firsthand how it feels to help people. Reading books and visiting Web sites about dentistry and the specialty of pediatric dentistry are other good ways to learn more about the field.
Many young children are fearful and anxious during their first dental exam. It is the responsibility of the pediatric dentist to put them at ease. Oftentimes, a child’s experience with a pediatric dentist may set the stage for their lifetime success with oral health.
When treating a young patient for the first time, pediatric dentists will review his or her medical and dental history. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry advises that children see a pediatric dentist soon after the emergence of their first tooth, or at about one year of age.
The pediatric dentist carefully explains procedures to the parent and child and presents tools and equipment and explains their function, taking care to use terminology easily understood by the child. They count and examine the teeth, and examine inside and outside the child’s mouth and jaw areas. They often ask the child to bite down on a specially coated paper in order to check the “bite” or alignment of the top and bottom rows of teeth.
Pediatric dentists take X-rays of the patient’s teeth in order to determine the presence or start of any cavities or abnormalities. X-rays are also useful in detecting future problems with incoming teeth. Pediatric dentists often use specially sized aprons and shaded eyewear to protect the patient from harmful X-rays and harsh lighting.
Pediatric dentists use powerful brushes, water picks, probes, and other tools to clean and polish their patients’ teeth. Cleaning pastes, in child-friendly flavors, are used in conjunction with these tools. Children’s teeth are weaker than those of adults, and are more susceptible to decay. To help retard decay, pediatric dentists use fluoride treatments to give teeth extra protection.
If cavities are found, pediatric dentists first prepare the area with a topical anesthetic, followed by an injectable anesthetic around the tooth in question. If the decay is large or very deep, or if patients are especially anxious, pediatric dentists often administer a mild sedative agent before beginning the procedure. Dentists rely on a procedure, called a filling, to restore a tooth damaged by decay. They use drills, lasers, water picks, and other tools to remove the decay and clean the area. Pediatric dentists fill the cavity with either a metal alloy or a porcelain composite (which gives a better match to the shade of the original tooth, and is used more often today).
If the tooth is damaged, or heavily decayed, the pediatric dentist often decides it is in the best interest to conduct an extraction. For this procedure, the patient is given an injectable anesthetic or put in a drowsy state with a mild sedative agent. Then the tooth is carefully removed.
Pediatric dentists educate patients regarding the importance of daily oral hygiene. They show their young patients the proper way to brush and floss their teeth. Since daily diet also plays an important role in oral health, pediatric dentists spend a great deal of time identifying good and bad food, snacks, and drinks with their patients. Toothbrushes and toothpastes, small toys, stickers, and other prizes are often given to patients after a successful dental visit, especially a cavity-free check-up.
Pediatric dentists also discuss procedures and the overall dental health of the child with his or her parents. Any bad habits are addressed. These include thumb sucking and prolonged use of pacifiers and sippy cups—all of which can affect oral health. During this conversation, a plan of action targeting any dental problems is created. If necessary, referrals are made to orthodontists or oral and maxillofacial surgeons. Orthodontists correct irregularities in the development of teeth and jaws by means of braces and similar devices. They work with patients that range from children to adults. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform difficult tooth extractions, remove tumors from the gums or jaw, and set jaw fractures. Some surgeons may specialize in treating children.
When treating adolescent patients, other issues are addressed beside proper oral maintenance. Pediatric dentists often counsel their older patients on the treatment of wisdom teeth, the use of tobacco, and the pros and cons of oral piercings.
There are additional duties associated with maintaining a pediatric dental practice. Some examples include medical charting, patient billing, supervision of dental hygienists and other office staff, ordering necessary office and medical supplies, and keeping up-to-date with new procedures and techniques through continuing education.