Is the future of dentistry a family affair?

General dentists are increasingly eager and able to take on children as patients. There are many reasons fueling this trend.

by Carla Cohn, DMD

With the growing trend of general dentists becoming "family dentists" and treating both adults and children, it might appear that way. General dentists are increasingly eager and able to take on children as patients. There are many reasons fueling this trend.

Supply, demand, and economic effects

In a depressed economy, many patients may delay regular visits to the dentist. What used to be semiannual visits might now be biennial or longer. Patients are increasingly putting off appointments or necessary treatment for themselves.

But it's clear that parents are often willing to spend on their children what they may not be willing to spend on their own oral health care. Studies have shown the importance of early-childhood preventative care, and parents are being educated to take their children to the dentist by their first birthday.

Another economic factor is basic supply and demand. Since 1995, the dentist-to-patient ratio has been declining, and it is particularly low in pediatric dentistry. Of the approximately 190,000 dentists in the U.S. today, only about 3,000 are pediatric specialists.

There are simply not enough pediatric specialists to care for the needs of all children. The truth is that the vast majority of children in the United States do receive dental care from general dentists. General dentists graduate from accredited programs with the basic knowledge to care for children.

Postgraduation, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and many dental schools and state associations offer continuing education courses that provide further training in pediatric dentistry in order to enable general dentists to be better equipped for treating young children.

A good general dentist knows when a child's needs – or any of their patients' needs for that matter – are beyond their expertise and will refer that patient out accordingly. Many pediatric dentists are grateful for the collaboration and added support.

Friendly kids and kid-friendly offices

Many dentists, myself included, contend that children make better patients than adults. It truly is a pleasure to work with kids. Personally, I feel that working with children is more aptly described as playing.

Days at our office are filled with smiles and laughter. Children come to us with no preconceived ideas about dentistry. It is our responsibility to offer them positive experiences and create happy, healthy patients. The kids in your practice will allow it to grow.

It is not uncommon that once parents see how well their children are taken care of, they will want to be taken on as patients themselves. And it only stands to reason that a young, happy patient grows into a happy adult patient and becomes a patient for life. Treat the children well and your practice will soar.

Better technology, better care

It is especially important when planning a child's treatment to use proper technology and materials in order to provide the highest quality dental care that will last the lifetime of the tooth. There is a vast array of pediatric-specific products to allow for increased success.

For example, we have available today pediatric-sized surgical instruments, handpieces, and materials that make treating children easier and more efficient. Esthetic restorations for primary teeth were not readily available several years ago. Dentists and parents alike now truly appreciate the ability to provide esthetic restorations during the formative years of a child's life, and they are able to offer a range of solutions for restoring primary teeth.

NuSmile, a leading manufacturer of esthetic pediatric crowns, offers prefabricated and zirconia crowns for primary incisors, cuspids, and molars. They are durable, easy to place, and offer the advantage of full coverage and superior esthetics.

No longer do we have to choose between functional or beautiful. We do a service to our patients and ourselves to research and learn these newer technologies. The products available to us today are better and easier to use, and they allow us greater success with procedures and patients. Products such as these have opened up opportunities for general dentists to evolve into family practices.

Family dentistry is smiling

With more parents seeking to simplify their lives with one dentist for the entire family, many dentists are inclined to offer a kid-friendly, family-friendly experience. With superior products and continuing education available, it's no wonder more dentists are prepared to treat the whole family.

Carla Cohn, DMD, has lectured nationally and internationally on pediatric dentistry for the general practitioner and prevention and restorative treatment options for children. She maintains a private practice in Winnipeg, Canada. Reach Dr. Cohn at

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