A Lifetime Of Smiles

By Angela Bristow

With parents often having their own hang-ups about going to the dentist, some struggle with convincing their children to see a dentist. But according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), establishing the right oral care habits early helps get kids headed on the path to a lifetime of good oral health.

Why use a pediatric dentist for your child? A pediatric dentist is the dental equivalent to a pediatrician – they specialize in treating infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health needs (chronically ill, disabled or mentally challenged). According to the AAPD, a pediatric dentist has two to three years specialty training following dental school and limits his/her practice to treating children only.
“You have to be in the top 10 to 15 percent of your class to get into pediatric dentistry. Then you do two years of specialty training. I don’t think anybody gets into pediatric dentistry without being qualified,” said Eric Felix, DMD, of Little Smiles in Smile Krafters, Allentown.

The AAPD recommends that children see a pediatric dentist when their first tooth erupts or by one year of age. Starting early on the path to good dental health is key. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) comparing the dental health of Americans in 1988-1994 and 1999-2002 found that while cavities decreased among older children, cavities in two- to five-year-olds actually increased 15.2 percent.

So how do you go about finding the right pediatric dentist for your child? As with so many other things, ask friends and family who their children see and how they like that dentist. Look for pediatric dentists with good communication skills,” says Felix.

Even before making an appointment, call the office and take note of the helpfulness of the staff, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to visit the office. At the first visit, take note of how the dentist listens to you and your child. Observe whether he/she takes a few minutes before starting the cleaning or treatment to talk to your child and make him/her feel relaxed and comfortable. Check the dentist’s credentials by asking if the dentist graduated from an accredited pediatric residency program.

Also of importance is to determine whether the dentist is keeping up with the latest technology. “Are they using digital X-rays? If they say ‘no,’ they’re not using the latest technology. It uses 90 percent less radiation than film X-rays,” said Felix. He also strongly recommends the use of non-amalgam (white) fillings over amalgam (silver) fillings. “You have an alternative that doesn’t have mercury in it, why not use it? Why take the chance?” said Felix.

During the first visit the pediatric dentist will generally examine the child’s mouth, discuss any dental issues with you, and may provide information on preventive home care, preventing mouth and teeth injuries, and growth and development.

“Dentistry for a long time has gone in with this attitude that patients have to sit there for a long time and be traumatized. There are options now for sleep dentistry. The state just passed a law that all insurance companies must pay for children under seven to be put to sleep for dental treatment, if that’s what’s needed. You don’t have to hold them down, and we don’t. It’s all about doing it so we don’t scare them,” said Felix. Sleep dentistry is performed in a hospital setting with a trained anesthesiologist. Other forms of sedation, such as local anesthetics and nitrous oxide, are also available in most offices, when needed.

The environment in a pediatric dental office is generally going to be busier, vibrant, and less formal than a general dentist office. Many offices have televisions, games and toys that allow the children to interact with each other and make the visit fun.

“We have a philosophy of making sure the kids have a real good experience. It’s about trying to give the best experience you can,” said Felix.

Felix, whose father was a pediatric dentist, said that fun is one of the main reasons he pursued pediatric dentistry. He said, “The patient population is great. It’s great to see a child that’s never seen a dentist and see them have fun. It’s a lot more fulfilling.”

Visit the AAPD website at www.aapd.org for additional tips on pediatric dentistry.

Follow @LehighValleyMarketplace on Instagram