With two different sets of teeth to worry about, children's dental needs are different than those of an adult. For this reason, pediatric dentistry exists. The parents of infants deal with teething, the threat of baby bottle tooth decay and, later, potential thumb-sucking and pacifier dependency issues that can threaten oral health. Older children, meanwhile, have to deal with losing baby teeth and preparing their mouths for possible orthodontic work later on. And of course, all children should be learning preventative dental care—techniques such as daily brushing and flossing to prevent dental problems. Pediatric dentistry deals with all of these issues. Practitioners in this field, called pediatric dentists, undergo an extra three years of training to learn about children's growth, development and psychology. They also take behaviour management classes, where they learn to deal with nervous or hard-to-handle young patients.
Preventative care. This is the most important part of dental care. A pediatric dentist can ensure the child learns to brush and floss properly, greatly reducing the risk of dental problems throughout his or her lifetime. The dentist can also ensure the child and its parent understand how decay occurs, and how proper eating and hygiene habits can help prevent it. As the child grows older, the pediatric dentist keeps an eye out for future tooth alignment or bite problems, and suggests preventative measures to reduce more extensive and expensive orthodontic treatment later on.
Teething. As the baby teeth emerge between the ages of six months to three years, the baby can experience sore gums and other forms of discomfort. A pediatric dentist can advise the parent on how to handle and reduce the discomfort. He or she can also counsel the parent on proper cleaning techniques once the teeth erupt.
Baby bottle tooth decay. Often, well-meaning parents "treat" their babies to a bottle of juice or milk at bedtime. The sugars in these liquids gather around the infant's teeth and gums, feeding the bacteria that cause plaque. Prolonged and frequent exposure to these sugars can cause the baby's teeth to decay. Early decay can lead to a need for early extraction. To avoid this situation, bottles should be filled with water only. Ideally, bottles should not be given at nighttime and babies should be weaned off the bottle between the ages of twelve and fourteen months. A pediatric dentist can advise parents on how to prevent and treat baby bottle tooth decay.
Thumb-sucking. This is a normal activity for infants and very young children that usually stops between the ages of two to four. However, if it continues even after the permanent teeth have begun to emerge, bite problems can occur. The upper teeth can lean towards the lip, or not come in properly. In these cases, pediatric dentists can recommend a mouth appliance to block the habit.
Interceptive orthodontic treatment. Bite and alignment problems can be most easily corrected while the jaw is still growing. The pediatric dentist can suggest appliances to stretch and shape a child's jaw and mouth to prepare for future orthodontic treatment once the permanent teeth have come in.