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 an extra three years at university and is specially trained to care for children. Paediatric dentists often see children with additional health care needs, who are anxious or who have more complex dental needs. Paediatric dentists can treat children under sedation and general anaesthesia.

Why your child might see a dentist

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 also give you and your child advice about caring for teeth with healthy eating and good dental hygiene.

Dentists also:

  • 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 such as plates or braces for this or they might refer you to an orthodontist for this kind of treatment.

For certain dental treatments, your child might not need to see a dentist. He might see one of the following dental health professionals instead.

Dental therapistDental therapists check and treat diseases of the teeth and gums. Dental therapists work closely with dentists and can do things like cleaning teeth, using fluoride and applying sealants to prevent decay, and putting fillings into teeth damaged by decay.

Dental hygienist
Dental hygienists are experts in preventing gum disease and cleaning the mouth, teeth and gums. Your child might be referred to a dental hygienist for fluoride treatment or to have dental sealants put on her teeth.

Generally children should see a dentist by the time they're one year old. 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 lists: how long before you can get an appointment to see the dentist?
  • Making an appointment: it might take you more than one phone call to make an appointment.
  • Costs: how much will the appointment with the dentist cost? It might be expensive, so you could check whether you can get money back from Medicare or private health insurance or whether you can get some other kind of financial help. Also check whether dental check-ups are offered at your child's school and, if so, how much they cost.
  • 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 talk about these things and any other questions you have 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.