Paedodontics is the branch of dentistry that specialises in the care and management of children’s teeth. Also known as paediatric dentistry, it treats patients from birth until adolescence. Its goal is two-fold: to care for children’s teeth and educate patients on proper dental hygiene and maintenance for their young children. The success of paediatric dentistry lies in early oral examinations that can lead to early detection of dental problems, which can help prevent major and lasting damage to children’s teeth.
Patients who should undergo paedodontic treatment include all young children, including infants, toddlers, and adolescents. The scope of treatment differs depending on the age of the patient.
For infants and toddlers, the main focus are:
For older children and adolescents, the goals of paediatric dentistry are to:
Paediatric dentists are also trained in the care and management of dental problems experienced by children with disabilities and special needs, and in the treatment of patients who suffer from traumatic oral injuries, such as fractured, displaced, or knocked out teeth as well as injury to the bones surrounding the teeth.
It is highly recommended that all young children be regularly examined by a paediatric dentist from an early age. Treatment begins with the patient’s first dental checkup. As a general rule, young children should be seen by a dentist as early as six months after their first tooth erupts, or at least by the time the child is one year old. These early visits help parents know whether they are cleaning their child’s teeth properly at home.
The first visit should then be followed by regular checkups every six months. During these regular checkups, patients will undergo a routine teeth cleaning and dental exam. The dentist may also periodically perform a fluoride treatment to guard against tooth decay caused by sugars and bacteria.
In the course of paedodontic treatment, the dentist may need to perform several procedures, including:
Fillings – This involves the removal of any decayed or damaged part of a tooth. The resulting hole is then filled with metal, plastic, or other filling materials. The procedure prevents the decay from getting worse and spreading deeper into the tooth.
Extractions – Tooth extractions are performed in cases of severely damaged or infected tooth or when a child’s teeth are overcrowded.
Dental crowns – Young children may also require dental crowns to restore badly damaged teeth. The procedure is performed by first removing caries or cavities and reducing the size of the tooth to accommodate the crown.
Root canals – Root canals are usually performed as a treatment for decayed, infected teeth, as well as for injuries that result in tooth loss.
Dental x-rays – Taking dental x-rays is a common part of a routine dental exam. The x-rays allow dentists to detect bone damage, tooth decay, impacted teeth, and dental injuries, among many other potential problems that may not be readily visible.
Sealants – Once children start getting their molars, dentists may recommend the use of sealants to protect the surface of the teeth from wear and tear.
In some cases, paedodontic treatment may also involve oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, periodontics, and prosthodontics. Orthodontics, for one, is most commonly performed during a child’s teenage years, as this is the best time to ensure that the teeth and jawbones are aligned properly. Undergoing orthodontic treatment can help teenagers avoid many potential tooth problems as they grow into adulthood.
Since patients who undergo paedodontic treatment are quite young, this branch of dentistry involves some special risks. For one thing, many young patients are apprehensive about undergoing dental treatments, which can make even simple procedures very challenging. Thus, paediatric dentists are trained and should also have the patience and determination to provide treatment to all young patients, including those with difficult cases.
Another source of concern for young patients undergoing dental procedures is the use of dental anaesthesia. Studies show that anaesthesia comes with some unavoidable risks, including:
Dental procedures themselves also come with some risks, including:
To prevent complications, a certain amount of preparation before the procedure, as well as some procedural safety checks, are required.
Lee JY, Roberts MW. “Mortality risks associated with paediatric dental care using general anaesthesia in a hospital setting.” J Clin Pediatr Dent. 2003 Summer; 27(4):381-3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12924740
Ramos-Gomez FJ, Crystal YO, Man Wai Ng, Crall JJ, Featherstone J. “Paediatric dental care: Prevention and management protocols based on caries risk assessment.” J Calif Dent Assoc. 2012 Oct; 38(10): 7460761. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3470809/