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 who have additional health care needs, are very young or anxious, or 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
Ideally, your child will visit a dentist for regular check-ups.
When your child visits the dentist, the dentist will:
- check how your child’s teeth and jaws are growing
- check how well your child is caring for their teeth and gums
- give your child advice about good dental hygiene – brushing teeth and gums, flossing or using interdental brushes
- explain how to care for teeth with a healthy diet.
- 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.
Sometimes dentists can 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 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. They do some dental treatments and provide oral health education.
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 things like the following:
- Appointments: you could ask about how long appointments usually take, whether the dentist is usually on time, whether the appointment will be just a check-up or involve extra treatments and so on.
- Waiting lists: how long before you can get an appointment to see the dentist?
- Is there anything you can do while you’re waiting for the appointment? For example, if it’s your child’s first visit to the dentist, you can prepare your child by talking or reading books about how dentists help us look after our teeth.
- Costs: how much will the appointment with the dentist cost? This can vary depending on whether you attend a private or public clinic, how old your children are and what type of dental care your child needs.
- 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 provides 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 can ask these and any other questions when you contact the dental clinic, dental hospital or community health centre to make an appointment. It’s a good idea to write down any questions you have, so you don’t forget.