Dentists are highly skilled health professionals who offer advice and treatment for teeth and gums. This article explains role of a dentist, how they can help your child and what you can expect from their services.

What is a Dentist?

Dentists are highly trained professionals who prevent, diagnose and treat problems concerning the teeth, gums and mouth. This involves several aspects of work:

  • Education on keeping teeth and gums healthy through brushing, flossing and correct nutrition
  • Working to repair cavities in teeth, with a variety of different filling types
  • Removing damaged teeth
  • Treating gum disease
  • Creating crowns, bridges, dentures and other mechanisms to replace missing teeth or treat fractured or damaged teeth
  • Taking x-rays to examine the state of teeth
  • Dentists can also administer anaesthetics, in order to perform corrective work, and prescribe drugs, such as antibiotics, for infections

To work as a dentist in New Zealand, a practitioner must be registered with the Dental Council of New Zealand which requires up to six years training at university and in clinical settings.

Dentists may work in many settings – in private practice, in hospitals, in public health settings, in the armed forces and for corporate organisations. Most dentists operate their own practice, working alongside other professionals such as dental nurses and dental hygienists.

Areas that dentists may specialise in include:

  • Paediatric – working with children
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons – undertaking operations on the mouth and jaw
  • Periodontists – treating gums and bones of the jaw
  • Orthodontists – working to straighten teeth by using braces and retainers

When should I or my child see a dentist?

Dental care is free for New Zealand for children until their 18th birthday – first through the school system and, during secondary school, through dentists operating under the Combined Dental Agreement.

Ideally by the time children reach adulthood, regular checkups and good dental care will be a normal part of life. Increasingly, poor dental hygiene is being linked to ill health–the holistic health community now regards gum disease as a causative issue in diseases as diverse as heart attacks and strokes and even some cancers.

Regular annual dental checkups should be a part of life for all the family. Children should see a dental therapist or dentist by the time they turn one.

Your children will need to come under the care of dentists (earlier rather than later) if they have problems with badly placed teeth that need braces, gum disease, malformations of the jaw, or other problems that are too complex for dental therapists to treat.

It is also necessary to see the dentist if you have pain in your teeth, have persistent bad breath, if your gums bleed or if you notice the gums seem to be receding from the base of the tooth. Unfortunately periodontal disease is often `silent’ until it is well advanced, which is why regular checkups are so important to preserve teeth quality and good health for life.

How do I find a dentist?

Word-of-mouth is usually the most reliable way to find a good dentist, particularly one that has a relaxed manner with children. Ask family members, friends, work colleagues who they recommend. People such as your GP, Plunket nurse or other health professionals may also be able to advise you about a good dentist.

In some communities low-cost dentists offer their services through different organisations. To find out more, contact your local Citizen Advice Bureau or one of the two organisations listed below. Your doctor may also suggest that your problems would best be dealt with through the hospital system, and will refer you to be seen by a dentist at your nearest hospital.

When choosing a dentist you might want to consider:

  • How convenient the practice is in relation to your home
  • Does the practice seem clean, organised and well run
  • What kind of fees the dentist charges – you may want to compare prices in your area
  • What kind of experience and training the dentist has had
  • Is your dentist open to alternatives such as different filling substances apart from amalgam

What will the dentist do?

A dental consultation will involve two aspects –

  • Firstly taking a clear and detailed dental history
  • Followed by an examination of your mouth.

It is likely a dentist will want to take x-rays if you are experiencing teeth or mouth problems, to help them locate the cause.

Once the problem is ascertained, the dentist will discuss a treatment plan with you in terms of what is needed and what the likely costs will be.

In the modern world of dentistry a number of controversial issues are arising – such as fluoridation of water and amalgam teeth fillings. If these issues concern you, discuss these with your dentist.

What can I do to help my teeth?

Dental work, especially when it becomes specialised, can become very expensive for both children and adults.

Luckily there is much you can do at home to keep the family’s teeth healthy so they will require little dental intervention. A baby’s teeth start to form just three weeks after conception, so good nutrition throughout pregnancy is the first step to insure the health of your children’s teeth. For more information on Preconception Care, click here.

Tips to keep your teeth healthy include:

  • Encourage children to drink from a cup as they approach one year old
  • Do not let babies fall asleep with a bottle
  • Drinking juice from a bottle should be avoided
  • Discourage thumb sucking – especially after age 2
  • Use a soft child’s toothbrush when teeth arrive
  • Ensure your child’s diet includes plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Ensure good calcium intake for children and adults through foods such as yoghurt, spinach, broccoli, fresh orange juice and salmon
  • Limit sugary foods and drinks and always brush after eating or drinking them
  • Brush teeth for two minutes twice daily and floss every night (put a song on a CD player to keep your child focussed, or set the timer!)
  • Drink plenty of water

Useful websites & articles on dental care:

For more information on the role of the Dental Therapist in primary schools, or on how an Orthodontist can help your child, visit our Kiwi Families articles.

www.nzda.org.nz

The New Zealand Dental Association is the professional body for dentists.

www.dentalcouncil.org.nz

The Dental Council of New Zealand is the statutory body for maintaining self-regulation of the dental professions. Their primary role is to promote and protect the public interest by ensuring that oral health practitioners are safe and competent to practise.

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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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