Pediatric Dentist: Your Children's Teeth Specialist

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is a pediatric dentist?

A pediatric dentist specializes in the dental needs of children and adolescents. Pediatric dentists focus on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases and conditions of the oral cavity (mouth, teeth and gums) and the maxillofacial area (head, neck, face and jaw). Pediatric dentists also maintain the function and appearance of these areas. The overall goal of pediatric dentists is to help their patients maintain a healthy mouth, teeth and gums and establish healthy, lifelong oral habits.

A pediatric dentist typically:

  • Evaluates the patient's dental and medical history and performs an oral and dental exam

  • Educates patients about dental conditions and diseases, good oral hygiene, and oral disease prevention

  • Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests, such as X-rays and saliva tests

  • Prescribes medications, including antibiotics and pain medications

  • Diagnoses oral and maxillofacial diseases and conditions based on an evaluation of tests and exams

  • Provides preventive oral and dental care including dental cleanings and fluoride treatments

  • Treats various oral and maxillofacial diseases and conditions including tooth decay, gum disease, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder

  • Works closely with other dental specialists and doctors as needed to ensure optimal care

A pediatric dentist may also be known by the following terms: pedodontist, kids dentist, dentist for children, children's dentist, Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), and Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD).

Who should see a pediatric dentist?

All children and adolescents, including those with physical or mental disabilities, should receive regular dental care throughout childhood. Regular pediatric dental care is the best way to prevent cavities, gum disease, and other oral health conditions.

Dental care should begin when an infant gets his or her first tooth or no later than one year of age. Regular pediatric dental care generally includes a routine dental cleaning and exam every six months, or more often as recommended by your pediatric dentist. How often your child needs dental care depends on his or her specific dental issues, such as the amount of plaque and calculus buildup, decay rate, and susceptibility to gum disease (periodontal disease).

When should you see a pediatric dentist?

In addition to regular dental exams and care, consider seeking care from an experienced pediatric dentist if your child has any of the following symptoms or conditions:

  • Bad breath or dry mouth

  • Bleeding gums

  • Changes in their teeth, gums, lips or tongue

  • Crooked or discolored teeth

  • Delayed teeth eruption or tooth loss

  • Medical conditions that increase their risk of dental problems, such as diabetes

  • Sensitivity to hot and cold liquids or pain with chewing

  • Tooth, mouth or jaw pain or swelling of the oral tissues such as the gums

  • For older children and adolescents, behaviors that increase their risk of dental problems including playing contact sports, frequent snacking between meals (a risk factor for cavities), smoking, excessive alcohol use, and high-risk oral sex practices

What conditions and diseases does a pediatric dentist treat?

A pediatric dentist treats a variety of conditions and diseases, including:

  • Cavities, baby bottle tooth decay, and plaque

  • Discolored teeth

  • Dry mouth

  • Gum disease (gingivitis)

  • Misaligned teeth (malocclusion)

  • Mouth sores, tumors and infections

  • Oral trauma, broken teeth or tooth loss

  • Teeth grinding

  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder

  • Toothache

What tests does a pediatric dentist perform or order?

A pediatric dentist can order or perform a variety of diagnostic and screening tests. These tests include:

  • Oral biopsy to diagnose cancer and other diseases

  • Oral cancer screening to detect oral cancer before a child has symptoms

  • Oral exam including early childhood cavity risk assessment and visual evaluation

  • Salivary gland function testing to evaluate the health of the salivary glands

  • Tests for oral infections including yeast and bacterial infections, herpes virus, and HPV (human papillomavirus)

  • X-rays to evaluate dental decay, bone loss, misaligned teeth, and other problems. X-rays include radiographs of the teeth, jaws, skull, and salivary glands.

What procedures and treatments does a pediatric dentist perform or order?

Pediatric dentists perform various procedures and treatments, including:

  • Dental hygiene and preventive care including cleanings, fluoride treatments, dental sealants, and deep cleaning (scaling and root planning)

  • Fitting oral appliances including space maintainers, custom mouth guards for sports, and appliances to treat teeth grinding and TMJ disorder

  • Surgical procedures including tooth extractions, tooth implants, gum surgery, and tissue grafts

  • Treatments to restore or repair damaged teeth including fillings, crowns, root canals, and teeth-whitening treatments

Pediatric dentist training and certification

Education, training, experience and certification are key elements in establishing a pediatric dentist’s level of competence. A pediatric dentist has:

  • Completed three or more years of undergraduate education

  • Graduated with a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree from a four-year U.S. dental school. DDS and DMD are equivalent degrees and involve the same level of education.

  • Completed 2 to 3 years of additional specialized training in diagnosing and treating children and teen's dental needs

  • Completed the requirements for state dentistry licensure

Pediatric dentists can choose to earn board certification from the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry. Certification validates that a pediatric dentist has advanced training in pediatric dental care. A board-certified pediatric dentist has completed all of the educational and training requirements listed above as well as passed written and clinical examinations administered by the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry.
To maintain certification, pediatric dentists must complete 15 hours of continuing education every year and participate in an annual review of professional standing and clinical performance. Every 10 years, board-certified pediatric dentists must participate in a review course on pediatric dentistry and pass a renewal and certification exam to maintain their board certification status.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2017 Nov 10
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Frequently Asked Questions. American Academy of Pediatric Dentists. http://www.mychildrensteeth.org/education/faq/.  
  2. Qualifying Examination. American Board of Pediatric Dentistry. https://www.abpd.org/Content/Applicants/Qualifying-Examination.aspx.  
  3. Renewal of Certification Examination Overview. American Board of Pediatric Dentistry. https://www.abpd.org/Content/Diplomates/Renewal-of-Certification-Exam.aspx