Family dentists are dentists who offer general oral care services for patients at all stages of life, from infancy to adulthood. Often, they serve as dental practitioners for the whole family, so you and your children could all rely on the same dentist for annual checkups, fillings, and other standard care. Like all general dentists, family dentists have completed dental school, but they have also received specific education to help them treat their youngest and oldest patients more effectively. Most family dentists specialize in pediatrics, providing the best care for children who are susceptible to somewhat different dental problems than adults. They take a very personalized, thorough approach to care, and family dental offices tend to be relaxed, cheerful places where you and your little ones will feel welcome and comfortable.
Family dentists can handle most dental care needs, though they may refer you or your child to a specialist for cosmetic procedures, orthodontics, or oral surgery. Many family dentists work in practices with these specialists, so you will have an easy time obtaining specialized care if you need it.
The following are among the most common services family dentists offer:
Dental Cleaning and Checkups
Most patients need to see the dentist for a checkup and cleaning appointment every 6 months, beginning when the first tooth emerges. These checkups usually begin with some time in the dental hygienist’s chair. The hygienist will use specialized tools to remove plaque and tartar from the surface of the teeth, before polishing the teeth with a special toothpaste. Hygienists who work in family dental practices are used to dealing with children and will be very gentle in their approach.
Once the teeth are clean, the dentist will examine the teeth and gums for any signs of cavities, gum disease, or other ailments. X-rays may also be taken to allow the dentist to see the roots of the teeth and how the teeth are aligned in the jaw. The dentist can monitor your child’s oral health over time, keeping an eye out for cavities, misalignment issues, or gum problems that might be getting worse as your child grows and habits change. Detecting these problems early makes them easier for your dentist to treat and helps ensure a lifetime of good oral health.
Fillings and Restorations
Family dentists also offer fillings, crowns, bonding, and other basic restorations for patients of all ages. If the dentist discovers a cavity in your mouth or your child’s mouth, they can fill it with composite or metal amalgam, restoring the strength of the tooth and helping to prevent additional decay. If a tooth is badly decayed or becomes damaged due to an accident, your dentist can cover it with a crown, which is like a cap that covers the entire tooth. Family dentists also offer bridges, which can be used to replace missing teeth, and they may extract badly decayed or damaged teeth. Then, they can monitor the condition of these restorations over time, helping you to care for them properly and replacing or repairing them if needed.
Referrals to Specialists
A child’s teeth and oral structure change a lot as he or she grows up. As the teeth are erupting into the jaw, your family dentist will carefully monitor them. If the teeth are not coming in straight or are not angled properly, your family dentist may refer your child to an orthodontist to be evaluated for braces or Invisalign. Your family dentist and orthodontist will work together as your child grows up in order to maintain a straight and healthy smile.
For adult patients, family dentists can often treat conditions like abscessed teeth and gum disease. However, they may refer you to a specialist for more serious cases. An endodontist, for example, is a specialist who performs root canals on abscessed teeth. While your family dentist may offer root canal services, he or she may refer you to an endodontist if your tooth roots are badly infected or shaped in a way that makes performing the root canal a challenge. Your family dentist may also refer you to a cosmetic dentist for procedures like veneers, dental implants, and whitening.
There are many advantages of taking your children to a family dentist and also seeing the same dentist yourself. Seeing the same dentist from childhood into adulthood makes it easier for that dentist to monitor the progress of oral health and potential dental problems as a child grows and matures. It’s also easier for you to schedule dental appointments for the whole family at the same dental office. You may be able to all go and get your teeth cleaned on the same day, saving you some time on the road.
One advantage of taking your children to a family dentist who specializes in pediatrics is the strong focus on prevention. The earlier your child begins practicing good oral hygiene habits, the stronger their teeth will remain into adulthood. A family dentist, with the help of a hygienist, will help teach your child how to brush and floss properly, and will also describe to them the importance of regular dental checkups. If your child develops these good oral hygiene habits early on, and also comes to see visiting the dentist as a positive experience, they are likely to keep taking good care of their teeth as they enter adulthood. Having an established dentist-patient relationship may also make them feel more confident approaching their dentist about problems like tooth pain, gum disease, and misalignment when they are a young adult.
Family dentists who specialize in pediatrics are also more equipped to deal with the unique challenges that come with treating young patients. They may have video game systems to keep anxious children entertained during treatment. Waiting rooms are often filled with toys to keep kids’ minds off the upcoming procedures. Family dentists also tend to have smaller chairs and equipment that make dental care more comfortable for their smallest patients. They take a tender approach and engage parents in the dental appointment, allowing them to soothe their children and take the time they need to acclimate.
Pediatric specialists are also specially trained to notice oral health problems that are common in children. They may recognize, for example, if your child’s baby teeth are experiencing excessive decay due to a high sugar intake or if the teeth are being pushed out of place by a thumb-sucking habit.
Children learn by example. Seeing the dentist can be scary when a child is young, but they will feel more comfortable if they watch their parent have their teeth cleaned and looked over, first. This is possible when you see a family dentist. You can make appointments for yourself and for your child on the same day. Your child can watch as you have your teeth cleaned, and then you can talk your child through the process when it’s his or her turn.
Seeing the dentist as a family also makes it a warmer, more inviting experience that children are less likely to fear as they grow up. It also gives you the opportunity to discuss oral hygiene habits that might affect you all. For example, if the dentist notices that everyone in your family is developing a lot of tartar between their teeth, you can then focus, as a family, on flossing more regularly to prevent this tartar buildup.
Experts recommend that children begin seeing the dentist once their first tooth emerges, or as soon as possible after their first birthday. Family dentists make it easy to provide your child with this care, which may benefit your child in the following ways:
Even though your child will lose their baby teeth beginning around the age of six, it is vital to keep these teeth healthy with good dental care. Decay in the baby teeth can make eating and speaking difficult for your child. Healthy baby teeth are also essential for guiding the adult teeth into place. Childhood dental care is more affordable than fixing numerous dental problems later in life.
If you are in need of an affordable family dentist, type your ZIP into our “Dentist Near Me” search tool to find a dental office near you. A family dentist offers preventative and general dental care for the whole family. They have the equipment and training necessary to treat the smallest patients, and they can keep your teeth healthy throughout adulthood, too.