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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

How to Find a Great Pediatric Dentist

By Tanni Haas

It’s important to find the right pediatric dentist. If you choose well, you’ll have a great dentist for your kids for years to come. But what should you look for when you’re looking for a pediatric dentist? Based on my own experiences, as well as conversations with other parents, I’ve compiled a list of nine important things to consider.

Evidence of their credentials. Make sure that whoever is on your list of candidates has the right qualifications. Most pediatric dentists have their dental school diplomas, certificates in pediatric dentistry, and licenses to practice prominently displayed in their offices. If that’s not the case, ask the receptionist to see a dentist’s credentials. You also can contact the local State Dental Board.

Good communication skills. If you get a chance, speak to the dentist and ask her or him about how she or he interacts with kids. A good pediatric dentist will follow what’s known as the “tell, show, do” technique: 1) She’ll start out by telling your kids about the procedure they’re about to have; 2) then she’ll show them how she’ll do it, which includes explaining which instruments she’ll use and how; and 3) only then will she complete the procedure. Kids relax when things are fully explained to them in advance. They hate surprises, unless it’s something really fun like an unexpected treat.

Focus on prevention. It’s important that the dentist is adept at diagnosing and treating dental problems, and it’s also necessary that they work at preventing them. This includes explaining to kids the basics of good oral hygiene; demonstrating the proper way to brush, floss, and rinse; and teaching them how food and drinks affect their oral health. The dentist also should take the time to explain what parents can do to support their kids’ oral care, and should patiently respond to any questions or concerns parents may have.

Assess accessibility. One of the keys to finding the right pediatric dentist is availability. Finding the perfect dentist isn’t useful if she or he isn’t available where and when you are. Look for someone whose office is conveniently located near your home, workplace, or (in post-pandemic times) your kids’ day care or school—ideally all these places so that you can get there quickly in an emergency. It’s also important that the dentist has evening and/or weekend hours and offers same-day appointments. Weekend hours are great, even in a non-emergency. It’s much less stressful to take the kids to the dentist on a quiet Saturday morning than to go in the late afternoon on a weekday, after you and the kids have both had a long day. When the office is closed, there should be an answering service that forwards your messages, and you should be able to email the dentist with any questions.

An inviting office. Kids and adults alike are often apprehensive about going to the dentist. A good pediatric dentist will have a bright, cheerful, and fun office with kid-sized furniture as well as books, toys, and games in the waiting room. The exam rooms should have kid-sized equipment as well as features like sun glasses to shield their eyes from the bright lights, and popular children’s shows playing on a wall- or ceiling-mounted television.

A smiling staff. When you enter the reception area, staff should greet you and the kids in a warm and friendly manner, to put everyone at ease.

Excellent reviews. A good pediatric dentist will have top-notch reviews, whether you ask your friends, family members, colleagues, your kids’ pediatrician, or your own dentist for recommendations, or you go online. Some of the most popular places to look for online reviews are CareDash, Healthgrades, and Zocdoc.

Insurance coverage. Dental care can be very expensive, even with a good insurance plan. Ask the pediatric dentists you’re considering whether they accept your insurance plan and what, if anything, the co-pay is for the most common procedures: basic examination and cleaning, fluoride treatment, and cavity filling.

A final piece of advice: Hold on to your notes about the pediatric dentists you didn’t select. If your insurance changes, you may find yourself looking for a new dentist, and it could take a while to find another one that’s right for your family. 

Tanni Haas, PhD, is a college communications professor.