Pediatric vs General or Family Dentist

By Catherine M. Fascilla, D.D.S.

Recently over lunch-time conversation, a dental assistant described a scenario concerning a relative who takes her child to a pediatric dentist. Having also worked for several years in pediatric dentistry, she found it puzzling why one would make that choice. “After all, one’s entire family may be conveniently and affordably treated by a general dentist,” she said. Another employee then recalled a patient who paid us a wonderful compliment concerning this very topic.

This particular patient sat comfortably in our waiting room as her two children were having their teeth cleaned and examined within earshot. She quietly enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of coffee as she read a magazine and casually glimpsed vintage TV programs airing at the time (possibly Hazel or I Dream of Genie). She stated, upon leaving, that many of her friends take their children to pediatric dentists only to complain about crowded or noisy waiting rooms. She then explained her preference for our general practice where she and her children share the same positive experience and she really enjoys her quiet time as she waits for them. She stated that any anxiety one might experience in going to the dentist is not heightened by a disproportionate number of nervous children in the waiting room or the sounds of a child screaming down the hall while her children wait to be next. Interesting story that leads us to the question, what is the difference between a pedodontist and a general (also referred to as a family) dentist?

All dentists start out with similar training. They must first earn an undergraduate degree then go on to dental school for four more years to earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. This is where the difference begins. Pediatric dentists must complete at least two additional years of training in the management and treatment of children’s developing teeth, child behavior, physical development and treatment of children with special needs. While general dentists have been trained in those areas as well, pediatric dentists have advanced training. Pedodontists only treat children. General dentists treat patients of all ages.

Pediatric dentists have greater expertise to handle problems specific to children such as developmental difficulties and root canals on adult teeth that have not fully formed. They’re trained to use sedatives specifically for children and can treat children under general anesthesia. They have advanced skills when dealing with a child’s behavior or special healthcare needs. They are more likely to have affiliations with hospitals and established relationships with pediatricians and are typically paid more because of their additional training and special temperament required to effectively treat children.

There are merits to both dental practices; however, in the majority of cases children can receive excellent care from a general dentist. Also your general dentist can refer your child to a neighborhood specialist if warranted. If you feel your child’s need would be better served by a dentist whose office is designed to treat only children, it is wonderful that the choice is yours to make. America is indeed a country with excellent dental choices!

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