What is a dentist?
A dentist is a university-trained health professional who specialises in preventing, diagnosing and treating conditions of the teeth, mouth and jaws.
A paediatric dentist is a fully qualified dentist who has completed additional university training and is a specialist in caring for children. Paediatric dentists often see children with additional health care needs, who are very young or anxious, or who have more complex dental needs.
Good dental health and habits in the early years lay the foundations for good dental and general health throughout life. Caring for your child’s teeth and taking your child to see a dentist in childhood is part of helping your child grow and develop well.
Seeing a dentist: what to expect
Your child will most likely see a dentist for regular check-ups to see how her teeth and jaws are growing and check how well she’s cleaning her teeth and gums.
Your child’s dentist will give you and your child advice about caring for teeth with healthy eating and good dental hygiene.
- clean teeth
- use fluoride and dental sealants to prevent decay
- fix teeth damaged by decay or trauma
- treat gum conditions
- take out teeth
- make and fit customised mouth guards for sport.
Dentists might also take X-rays of your child’s teeth and do some work to help the jaw and teeth line up properly. They might need to use special devices like plates or braces for this or they might refer you to an orthodontist for this kind of treatment.
For some dental treatments, your child might not need to see a dentist. For example, dental hygienists, dental therapists and oral health therapists often work with dentists and do some dental health treatments.
Generally children should see a dentist by the time they’re one year old or when their first tooth comes through, whichever happens first. After that, your dentist will let you know how often to bring your child for a check-up – usually every 6-12 months.
Before going to a dentist
Before seeing the dentist, it’s a good idea to find out about the following things:
- Waiting time: how long before you can get an appointment to see the dentist?
- Costs: how much will the appointment with the dentist cost? Cost can vary depending on your eligibility, whether you attend a private or public clinic, the age of your children and the type of dental care required.
- Assistance with costs: check whether you can use the Child Dental Benefits Schedule or get money back from private health insurance. It’s also worth checking whether your child’s school offers a free or subsidised dental service.
- Locations: find out where you have to go to see the dentist – for example, a public or private hospital, or local dental clinic. You might have to travel further than you expect, depending on your child’s needs.
You can ask these and any other questions when you contact the dental clinic to make an appointment. It’s also a good idea to write down any questions you have, so you don’t forget.