Firstly, what is a dental home? A dental home is a concept in oral health care for children supported by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). Primarily, a dental home is about establishing a life-long relationship or partnership with a skilled dentist, who can manage and meet the comprehensive oral health care needs that you require for your child. A good dental home and its staff must look, listen, learn and earn your trust. They should make you and your child feel welcomed, ‘at home’ and safe. Medical, educational and therapeutical factors all need to be considered in a comprehensive oral health care plan for your child. This set of needs is compromised if your child only visits a dentist out of necessity (or an emergency) and/or if your child’s dentist changes with each visit (through public health care). A revolving door of different dentists denies your child the consistency of dental management and treatment by a trusted, long-term and well-informed dental practitioner.
So when should you find a dental home for your child? Typically, a dental home is synonymous with your child’s first visit to a dentist at six months of age. At this age, your child’s dental relationship with his or her dentist starts with the dentist identifying feeding issues and changing oral structures, as well as preparing for future oral development. What should I expect from good dental home for my child? You should expect numerous benefits from a good dental home. Here are the main characteristics:
- Comprehensive dental assessment and care from a dentist who specialises (or is experienced) in pediatric dental care, including preventative and emergency dental services.
- An individualised preventative oral health care plan that considers and addresses specific oral health issues and concerns, including medical and behavioural factors.
- Anticipatory awareness and guidance of your child’s changing needs as they grow.
- 24/7 availability for acute trauma and other dental emergencies.
- Education and training from the dentist to optimise oral health care at home.
- Dietary counselling and instruction on special dietary needs and their associated oral health implications.
- Referrals to other relevant health professionals via a well-established referral network.
- Transitional services that anticipate and accommodate the oral health care needs of ‘emerging adult’ children.
The concept of a dental home has not been widely promoted in Australia. Yet ironically, one of the main advantages of the Australian Government’s Child Dental Benefit Schedule (CDBS) is that it has made it possible for disadvantaged Australian children to enter into the long-term care of a dedicated local family dentist and dental home. However, in a step backwards for the Department of Health, the ultimate closure of the CDBS will remove millions of kids across Australia from their dental homes, and onto public dental waiting lists to see a dentist whom they neither know nor trust.