From the time a child says their first words or takes their first steps, it becomes a common mantra among their parents: “They grow up so fast!” However, somewhere between the first tooth fairy visit and the need for braces, you may start to wonder if your child is getting a little too old, at least when it comes to dental care. If you’ve been trusting them to a pediatric dentist for years, how can you tell when it’s time to transition them to general dentistry?
The answer is trickier than you might think. It varies from dentist to dentist, and you’ll also want to take your child’s age, needs, and preferences into account. If you’re not sure if your child is too old for pediatric care, here are a few tips on navigating the decision.
How Are General and Pediatric Dentistry Different?
Before we jump in, it’s important to know the difference between general and pediatric dentists.
Both types of dentists have extensive education and training. This includes an undergraduate degree in addition to four years of dental school. They will also have to go through a one-year residency.
However, pediatric dentists take on even further training. They often have at least two extra years of education, if not more.
During this time, they focus on things like child development and psychology, pediatric sedation, special needs care, and more. This means that they have all the skills of a general dentist as well as special training that allows them to handle young kids.
What Is the Age Range for Pediatric Dental Care?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends bringing your child to a dentist as soon as they get their first tooth. You can bring a child to the dentist as soon as they start teething. However, many parents wait until their child is around a year old.
On the other end of the spectrum, pediatric dentists can see patients well into adulthood. Some practices even see the whole family! As we’ve discussed, pediatric dentists have the same knowledge and skills as general dentists, even though their specialty lies with children.
For this reason, there is no set age range for pediatric dental care.
It’s worth noting, however, that some pediatric dentist offices may stop seeing patients past a certain age of their choosing. For this reason, it can help to check with your dentist.
In addition, many young patients feel they are “aging out” of pediatric care once they start to grow older.
Are Teenagers Too Old for a Pediatric Dentist?
Teenagers are never too old to see a pediatric dentist. In fact, these dentists specialize in the kinds of bone growth and changes that begin taking place during the teenage years. They can address common dental issues that crop up during this time.
Even better, a pediatric dentist can often do more to help with early childhood and teen orthodontics than a general dentist. When a teenager needs help with crooked teeth, a pediatric dentist may be able to do an orthodontic pre-assessment where a general dentist would immediately refer them to a specialist.
Many teenagers feel most comfortable with the pediatric dentist who has cared for their teeth since they were younger. However, some teenagers may choose to see a regular dentist as they grow older.
This often happens around the time their wisdom teeth start growing in, which takes place between the ages of 17 and 21 for most people. For other young adults, the transition happens naturally once they are away from home at college.
How Do You Know When It’s Time?
Because there’s no official cutoff when it comes to pediatric dental treatments, it can be hard to know when to make the switch.
It’s always a good idea to talk with your child about it. If they’re happy going to their usual pediatric dentist, there’s no harm in letting them continue their normal visits. Their pediatric dentist can address any issues that come up, just like a general dentist would.
If they’d feel more like an adult by visiting a general dentist, let them do so. Older teenagers and young adults sometimes feel put off by the colorful, child-oriented environment of a pediatric dentist’s office. They may feel out of place among the toys and games for small children.
If your child has any special needs, sticking with a pediatric dentist may be ideal. These dentists specialize in minimizing anxiety, and they also work well with patients who have mental or physical disabilities. Transferring these patients to a general dentist can create an unnecessary source of stress for them.
If you’re on the fence, a good rule of thumb is to consider your child’s teeth. If they’ve lost all or most of their baby teeth, it may be time to switch to a general dentist.
You can also ask your pediatric dentist for advice. They may recommend moving to general dentistry at a certain age. They may also have specific recommendations based on your child’s oral care needs.
When the time comes to move to a new dentist, your child’s pediatric dentist can often refer you to a general dentist they trust. This can help ease any concerns you or your child feel about the change.
Trust Our Pediatric Care Team
The goal of any pediatric dentist is to help patients receive quality care in comfort. This continues to be true as young patients grow older. Whether your child wants to stick with a familiar face or schedule a dental appointment with a new dentist, your current pediatric dentist can help them feel comfortable with the decision.
At Kentuckiana Pediatric Dentistry, we pride ourselves on providing expert dental care for patients of any age. Our kid-friendly practice will go the extra mile to help your child, teen, or young adult feel safe and comfortable. To learn more about the patients we treat, or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.