When should a young person leave a pediatric dental practice? The answer varies from family to family, and experts agree that there is no specific age limit. Instead, patients and their families, in cooperation with their trusted pediatric dentist, should decide when the time is right.
Pediatric Vs. General Dentistry
It’s important to look at the differences between a pediatric and general dentistry practice.
Pediatric dentists receive special postgraduate training in their field, with a focus on preventive care, communication with patients and families, and the special use of sedation dentistry in children. In a pediatric dental practice, there is generally a much greater focus on interactions and atmosphere in order to create a calming environment for young patients. Orthodontic concerns often have a major role in pediatric practices, while general dentists tend to have more experience with reparative procedures like root canals and implants.
Pediatric Dentistry and Adolescents
In most cases, it makes sense for adolescents to stay with the dentist who has been providing care over the years. Their trusted dentist is the perfect person to help young people focus on preventive care, nutrition, and good oral hygiene as they take on more responsibility for their own dental health. Working with a dentist with a solid knowledge of a patient’s early dental history is also useful when the time comes for orthodontia and wisdom teeth removal.
Orthodontia and Wisdom Teeth
Pediatric dentists are specially trained to meet the needs of young people as their mouths change and permanent teeth come in. In many cases, your pediatric dentist is aware of orthodontic needs before you are and can recommend early orthodontic treatment when appropriate. One of the benefits of working with a pediatric practice with an in-house orthodontics practice is a seamless continuum of care when orthodontia is needed—whether in the elementary or teen years.
Your pediatric dentist also monitors your child’s wisdom teeth over the years through annual X-rays and exams. In many cases it’s a good idea to remove the wisdom teeth before students leave for college, and a pediatric dentist can help families in the decision-making process and in finding a trusted oral surgeon when needed.
When Should We Make the Transition?
The timing depends on your child’s dental needs, comfort level with change and family situation. Some young people make the switch as they leave high school, but many stay on through their college years.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry does not indicate a specific age, and the decision should be made on a case-by-case basis. In many cases, families can follow a medical model for the transition. Just as families use multiple criteria when deciding when to transition from a pediatrician to an adult doctor, the most important factors in the case of dentistry are patient readiness, family readiness and provider input.
As teens move into adulthood, their dental needs may be better suited for an adult dentist. This can include more complicated treatments like root canals, crowns, and implants. Young adults may also be looking to establish an ongoing relationship with a general dentist as they look toward adulthood.
However, it’s very common to see young adults in a pediatric practice at age 21 or 22. In particular, students with younger siblings may stay on longer in the interest of keeping the family at a single practice.
Pediatric Dentists and Special Needs Patients
Pediatric dentists are far more likely than most general dentists to have training and experience in working with special needs patients. For patients with intellectual and physical disabilities, autism and other challenges, the sense of trust developed with their pediatric dentist is a key to maintaining good dental health. Routine and familiarity are essential, and many special needs patients continue to see their pediatric dentist well into adulthood. Pediatric dentists’ special training in sedation dentistry can help special needs patients cope with fear and anxiety and keep them safe by avoiding movement during treatment.
Exiting a Pediatric Dentistry Practice: Your Dentist is Your Partner
When a young person decides to exit a pediatric practice for an adult dentist, your pediatric dentist is an important partner in making the transition. Your pediatric dentist/orthodontist can provide recommendations and referrals and will help with record transfers. Pediatric dentists also help by engaging young patients in their own dental care as they get older. In many cases, teen patients prefer to leave parents in the reception room as they begin to take charge of their oral health.
When an adolescent or young adult feels anxious about leaving the comfortable and secure setting of a pediatric practice, it’s important to allow plenty of time for the transition and gradually prepare the patient to move on.
Pediatric Dental Care: Creating a Foundation for Life
One of the most important roles of a pediatric dentist is establishing good habits and laying the foundation for good dental care as an adult. A pediatric practice can minimize anxiety, creating an atmosphere on security and engagement in children that will stay with them as they grow. This helps keep young adults focused on oral hygiene and continuing to see a dentist regularly even when they leave the nest—and their pediatric practice.