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What Is the Difference Between a Pediatric Dentist and a Family Dentist?


If you’ve been searching for a dentist for your child, you might have noticed some dentists labeling themselves as “board-certified pediatric dentists,” while others call themselves “family dentists.” What is the difference between a pediatric dentist and a family dentist? And what does it mean to be board-certified? Read on to find out!

Educational Differences Between a Pediatric Dentist and a Family Dentist

Family dentist is a label some general dentists give themselves to indicate that they are willing to treat both children and adults. Family dentists, like all dentists, must graduate from dental school and then earn their state dental licenses.

In contrast, pediatric dentists are dental specialists rather than general dentists, meaning that they have completed additional years of training. After graduating from dental school, pediatric dentists complete a two-year residency program. As explained by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the residency program trains pediatric dentists in “advanced diagnostic and surgical procedures, along with child psychology and clinical management, oral pathology, child-related pharmacology, radiology, child development, management of oral/facial trauma, care for patients with special needs, conscious sedation and general anesthesia.”

Board-certified pediatric dentists are pediatric dentists who have completed the additional step of passing the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry’s oral and written examinations.

Pediatric Dentists: Specialists in Children

Pediatric dentists go through lots of extra training because children experience different dental issues than adults. Just as a pediatrician knows how to address the specific medical needs of children, a pediatric dentist knows how to address dental problems specific to children:

  • Pediatric dentists are trained to understand the anatomy of, and have lots of experience dealing with, primary teeth. You might know that children have fewer teeth than adults – a young child has only 20 primary (“baby”) teeth, in contrast to an adult’s 32 permanent teeth – but did you also know that the anatomy of a primary tooth is very different than that of a permanent tooth? Primary teeth help children chew and speak, and they help permanent teeth come in properly, which means it is extremely important to take good care of them.

  • Pediatric dentists understand how to work with mouths and jaws that are still developing. Pediatric dentists are trained to constantly ask themselves how their patients’ dental issues – and any treatment options – will affect the growth and development of the patients’ teeth. Will a dental spacer be necessary after removing a primary tooth to ensure the permanent tooth can come in properly? Will this child’s bite issues lead to more serious issues, such as tooth loss or jaw problems, later in life? Pediatric dentists are extremely aware of the fact that children’s mouths and jaws are still developing and know how to intervene early to prevent more serious problems in the future and to use treatment methods that are appropriate given a child’s stage of oral development.

  • Pediatric dentists have experience dealing with dental issues not typically seen in adults. Examples of such issues include cleft lip and palate and difficulty nursing due to tongue tie.

  • Pediatric dentists understand child behavior. Dental exams can intimidate children. Pediatric dentists know how to ease children’s fears, educate them about oral healthcare, and make the experience positive.

Kid-Friendly Dentist Office Environment

Since family dentists serve both adults and children, you may find that their office environments cater more to adults.

Pediatric dentists only treat children, which means their offices are much more likely to be kid-friendly. At Hurst Pediatric Dentistry, pastel colors and child-friendly décor, TVs with children’s movies above each exam chair and prizes to reward patients for successful visits are just a few of the ways we make our office fun for our little patients. If you search near our check-out desk, you may even spot the tooth fairy’s home!

Board-Certified Pediatric Dentist in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex

Dr. Lin is a board-certified pediatric dentist. He completed his residency at Boston Children’s Hospital through the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Through this residency, he gained experience working with a wide variety of pediatric patients, including those with Down syndrome, autism, cancer, rare syndromes, cleft lip/palate, craniofacial abnormalities, and dental trauma.

Now, he practices pediatric dentistry in Hurst, Texas, serving children from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including Hurst, Euless, Bedford, Colleyville, Keller, Southlake, Arlington, North Richland Hills, Irving and Watauga. Come visit him at Hurst Pediatric Dentistry or call (817) 510-6400 to schedule an appointment.


This article is intended to provide general information about oral health topics. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition or as a substitute for the advice of a healthcare professional who is fully aware of and familiar with the specifics of your case. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with regard to any questions you may have relating to a medical condition or treatment

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