People often ask us why there is a whole separate dental specialty just for kids, so we talked with Dr. Dean Brandon, a pediatric dentist in Hunstville, Alabama, about what he does. He also has a blog about pediatric dentistry and graciously shared with us a little about what makes his field unique.
Why did you decide to become a pediatric dentist?
First, I love working with children. I would much rather work with a 4-year-old than a 40-year-old patient. Second, I like the large variety of procedures, including complex conscious sedation cases and general anesthesia cases the hospital. Still, pediatric dentistry is not a procedure-defined specialty. It is an age-defined one, that is, from birth to age 21. We also see special needs patients of any age. We are like the pediatricians of the dental world. Following the growth and development of children through the teen years gives perspective and enables us to guide the development in a favorable way. Pediatric dentists also do a good amount of orthodontics (braces) as well.
What are some differences between working with adult teeth and child teeth?
Children’s teeth are not static like an adult’s teeth. They move and change position over time. That is where understanding of growth and development comes in. Yes, baby teeth are much smaller, so any restorative procedures must account not only for size differences but the fact that the pulp or nerve is much closer to where you are working. A small cavity can develop into a large one requiring a crown and pulpotomy (nerve) treatment very rapidly. If a moderate or small cavity is present on a baby tooth that is about to fall out naturally and is giving no discomfort, we often observe it till it exfoliates (falls out). However, if it is going to be a long time (often many years) till they will fall out, then restoration is indicated. (Some baby teeth do not fall out till 12 years of age and are important in holding space for the permanent teeth.)
What are the most common procedures you perform?
As far as procedures: routine examinations, fillings and extractions make up the bulk of what we do every day. The remainder is crowns, orthodontic treatment, dental trauma and other emergencies like toothaches. In our practice, I spend more time than anything examining, diagnosing and talking with he child’s parents to determine the best course of treatment, whether it be restorations, orthodontics or just continued observation. Just like pediatricians, there are many things we do every day.
What are some easy ways parents can help encourage dental health in their kids?
Obviously brushing and flossing, but also regular dental visits and cleanings to ingrain brushing and good oral hygiene habits. The more they come to the pediatric dentist, the more they have fun and see good dental health as a normal part of life. If they only come for toothaches or emergencies, they may develop anxieties or not see the importance of regular dental care.
What is the most interesting procedure you have performed?
It is always interesting to do conscious sedation cases and cases in the operating room. Over time I have also see many developmental problems that require multi-disciplinary treatments over time.
What do you enjoy most about interacting on Twitter? Do you get to interact with your patients?
I do not interact much directly with my patients on the internet as far as treatment or diagnosis. However we, as a practice, do interact on Facebook, Twitter, blogging and other social media to a good degree.
Are there any special tools or tricks you use to help give children a positive experience at the dental office?
As a parent, do not say scary words or threaten that the dentist will take out all your teeth. Do not use words like “shot,” etc. Parents sometimes unwittingly exhibit their own anxieties and kids pick up on that. The language we use is important especially with younger children. Keep in mind nearly all 2- and 3-year-olds will be fussy just to get their teeth looked at, but with age, they get better and better. Pediatric dentists have a kid-friendly environment, so the cold clinical look of most adult practices is not the norm for us. We have a more open child-friendly decor, video games, bright colors and toys too. Regular visits in this more relaxed environment can help reduce anxiety and make everything not such a big deal. Every day we have kids who don’t want to leave the office when they are finished. They are having so much fun!
We appreciate Dr. Brandon sharing some of his expertise with us. Be sure to check out his blog to learn more!
If you have any questions about how to take care of your child’s teeth or how to encourage good dental health no matter their age, visit our Mom’s Guide to Caring for Little Teeth for helpful information and tips.