What is the Difference Between a General Dentist and a Pediatric Dentist

September 15, 2021

pediatric dentistry

Throughout your life, you need to see a dentist regularly, but kids typically see a different dentist than adults. Most children see a pediatric dentist, and those dentists typically focus on treating kids. But what is the difference between a general dentist and a pediatric dentist?

The Biggest Difference

The biggest difference between a general dentist and a pediatric dentist is the age of the patients they typically treat. Pediatric dentists typically treat patients who are 18 years old or younger, while general dentists typically treat patients who are at least 18 years old.

Either a general dentist or a pediatric one is perfectly capable of treating patients of all ages. Despite their ability to do so, though, many dentists choose to stay within their category. This helps them gain experience with kids or adults. It also prevents the need to keep extra equipment on hand as children and adults require different tools due to their different mouth sizes.

In many cases, either a pediatric dentist or a general dentist will be willing to work with a teen or even a tween. Most dentists do not have their age limits set in stone and can evaluate whether each patient is a good fit for them based on their situation.

The Differences in Training

One of the other major differences between general dentists and pediatric dentists is their training. Pediatric dentistry is one of the nine dental specialties. This means that pediatric dentists go through an added two or three years of training and residency after completing their dental degree.

Whether you choose a general dentist or a pediatric dentist, they will have completed an undergraduate degree and then attended a dental school for four years. That dental school always includes two years of classroom and lab experience followed by two years of supervised practical experience. At this point, a general dentist will take their licensure exam and begin practicing.

This is when a pediatric dentist continues their specialty training. This training includes experience working in the smaller mouths of children. It also includes managing concerns related to the growth and development of the mouth, head, and face. They also learn how to treat children under sedation or anesthesia, as children require different doses and handling from adults. This specialization also includes learning about any unique concerns and techniques when treating children, from regular cleanings to prevention to restorative treatments.

Their Focus Provides Extra Experience

It is important to note that anytime a dentist chooses to offer treatment to a specific group, such as children or adults, they will gain experience in treating that group more quickly. This means that pediatric dentists work with children all day and are constantly using their pediatric dentistry skills. That keeps those skills fresh in their minds and improves the level of care they can provide. That can sometimes make it challenging for a pediatric dentist to treat adults, despite having the training. The opposite is also true. General dentists typically treat adults, so that is what they are most comfortable doing.

Their Equipment

No matter the type of dentist you see, they will use similar equipment. The main difference is the size used. Children are smaller and have smaller mouths. This means that pediatric dentists typically use smaller versions of the typical dental tools than general dentists have.

Using smaller tools is important for several reasons. The full-size dental tools would not easily fit in a child’s mouth. This can make it hard for the dentist to do their job. It can also make the child very uncomfortable.

Their Interactions With Patients

If you think about how you would talk to a small child versus how you would talk to an adult, there are some clear differences. The same is true with dentistry. This means that pediatric dentists and adult dentists may discuss the same thing with their patients in different ways. Pediatric dentists may use simpler terms or more child-friendly language when interacting with patients. For example, instead of saying they are using a suction tool, they may call it a vacuum.

Pediatric dentists are typically adept at explaining in kid-friendly terms to the patient and then talking to their parents like they would an adult patient. This makes them flexible.

The Office Environment

Depending on the ages that the pediatric dentist treats, the overall clinic environment may also be very different for adults and children. General dentists tend to have “typical” dental office atmospheres with simple styling. By contrast, pediatric dentists tend to have more colorful and unique offices. These offices will also typically have small handheld games or kids’ books by each chair instead of the magazines by the chairs in generic dentist offices. A pediatric dentist may also have dental chairs of varying sizes instead of just adult-sized ones.

This difference makes sure that all of their patients are comfortable. Having colorful walls helps distract kids during treatment, while adults are typically content to just think or watch TV during treatment.

When to See Each Type of Dentist

The distinction is fairly clear-cut. Pediatric dentists undergo an additional two or three years of training to specialize in treating kids. Children under 18 years old will typically see a pediatric dentist, while those over 18 will typically see a general dentist like Dr. Sharma.

There are, however, exceptions. Both general and pediatric dentists can treat patients of all ages. This means that some pediatric dentists will let patients stay in their practice past age 18 if they are more comfortable doing so. On the other hand, many general dentists may only accept patients under 18 years old if their mouths are fully developed.

You can consult with your child’s pediatric dentist or Dr. Sharma to figure out when the best time to switch to a general dentist would be. For more information or to schedule an appointment with our dentist in Chicago, contact us today!



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