Google “Paediatric Dentist Singapore” or “children dentist Singapore”, and you'll be surprised at the lack of information available. Otherwise, you might find yourself reading through a list titled “best child dentists in Singapore” that was compiled by as a paid magazine post.
Parents often mistakenly believe that it’s unnecessary to bring their children to see the dentist.
As a paediatric dentist, I’ve put together this reference guide about paediatric dentistry in Singapore. I want to help you understand how it plays an important role in serving your child’s dental needs.
It provides an overview of topics such as:
- Differences between a paediatric dentist and general dentist in Singapore
- How to best prepare your child for his/her first appointment
- How to find the best paediatric dentist in Singapore
- Cost of seeing a paediatric dentist in Singapore
When’s the right age for your child’s first dental appointment?
Most parents have probably heard of the recommendation that children should be seen within 6 months of the eruption of their first baby tooth or by their first birthday. These recommendations are geared towards prevention of tooth decay. However, I think this will soon change.
You may wonder, isn’t that early already? In the ever-evolving world of paediatric dentistry, we are now recognising the pivotal role that paediatric dentists play in shaping a child’s oral-facial development — this includes the face and the jaws.
Some of these signs can be picked up as early as birth. Hence, that could be the new recommendation for the future. Remember, you heard it here first!
Why should you bring your child to a dentist at such a young age?
At 1 years old, children don’t have many teeth, right? So, what's the point of seeing a dentist?
Similar to how we prepare our baby’s room way before our little one is born, it's important that we equip parents with the right knowledge even before teeth emerge in their mouths.
Research shows that children who start seeing the dentist early tend to have better dental health. They are also less susceptible to severe dental issues like tooth decay. In my experience, these children also tend to adopt more positive attitudes about going to the dentist.
I'll admit that taking the time out for these early appointments takes effort. Nevertheless, if our children stand to benefit from good oral health for the rest of their lives, it is time well spent.
Besides, no child is too young for good oral health!
How much does it cost to see a paediatric dentist in Singapore?
|$50||Public healthcare (Subsidised rates)|
|$100||Public healthcare (Private paying status)|
|$80- $150||Private clinics (They tend to have a range)|
Will seeing a paediatric dentist be covered under insurance or Medisave?
Dental insurance policies vary greatly. Some provide limited coverage for regular visits while others allow claims annually up to a certain limit.
For you to make Medisave claims, the procedure that your child needs must fall under a list of procedures pre-approved by the government. These are usually for more complex procedures that are surgical in nature. Many parents also consider using their Child Development Account (CDA) to pay for dental treatment.
If in doubt, call ahead with your concerns prior to the appointment. All dental clinics should be able to assist in clarification.
However, I must emphasise that we recommend treatment plans based on your child’s dental needs, not based on your child’s level of coverage.
What’s the difference between seeing a paediatric dentist in public versus private?
Parents will have to expect longer waiting times for appointments in the public healthcare due to a heftier patient load. It's this same reason that makes it more challenging for your dentist to spend more time with each child and parent at each visit.
Paediatric dentists know the value of building a relationship with your child. However, the demands of the public healthcare system make it such that seeing the same paediatric dentist throughout all your child’s growing years may not always be possible.
What are the most common problems in toddlers seen by paediatric dentists in Singapore?
Tooth decay is the biggest dental problem toddlers face in Singapore. Decay rates have rapidly risen over the years. Today, more than 1 in 2 children under the age of 6 years old will have tooth decay. These numbers are still rising.
Truth to be told, tooth decay is a manageable issue. However, many children only show up at the clinic when the decay has already caused a bad toothache or an infection. That's not the best manner to see the dentist for the first time!
Poor tooth alignment and unbalanced jaw development is the next most common issue I see in preschool children. Some of the common causes are:
- Previous use of pacifiers
- Finger sucking
- Prolonged bottle feeding (did you know that children are advised to wean from the milk bottle from 12 months old?)
These habits can have subtle yet long standing effects on your child’s jaws even after the cessation of the habit. When detected early, your child’s dental and jaw development can be easily optimised and returned back on track.
What can you expect during your child’s dental visit?
Dental appointments are curated quite differently. It depends on your child’s dental needs and who your child’s dentist is. A general dentist may have a different focus from a paediatric dental specialist.
For me, creating a positive experience comes up tops in priority for your child. I always design my appointments with the aim of easing your child into the dental setting. I want to help them get comfortable so that they will enjoy their visit. That way, they will look forward to returning.
You can expect me make efforts to get to know them a little more each time I see them. I like to talk to them about their favourite colour, or their best friend in school. In my experience, children tend to be more agreeable to dental tasks when they think of me as a friend rather than just a dentist.
What should your dentist be evaluating at your child's first dental visit?
Besides the dental check to ensure teeth and gums are in tip top shape, you should expect a thorough evaluation of several things:
- How is your child’s level of dental hygiene?
- Are there areas that could be brushed better?
- Is dental development on track?
- Are the jaws and teeth well aligned?
I often set aside time to have a discussion about their daily diet and habits. Sometimes these habits may predispose to poor dental development.
I usually end my appointments by coming up with a customised take-home dental care plan with the parents. That is aimed at tackling any issues that had been identified during the check up.
The last bit always ends with Hi-5s, flying kisses, big waves of goodbye!
How can you best prepare for your child’s first dental visit in Singapore?
Parents who are following the first-dental-visit-by-age-one guidelines don't have to prepare much! I encourage parents to come relaxed and have a chat with on how to create the healthiest oral environment for your child’s baby teeth.
Unknown to many, our discussion goes beyond toothbrushing and what type of toothpaste to use. I ask about their diets, mouth habits, and even sleep! Many of these are relevant to the growth and development of a child's oral environment.
Think of it as an extension of your discussion with your paediatrician with a focus on oral development. I enjoy these appointments because the parents come to me stress-free, ready to learn about dental care.
Unfortunately, a lot children come to the clinic for the first time with a dental problem e.g. cavities. These children are often older and very much aware that they need something done. They come with a great deal of anxiety. They are worried that a tooth will be removed and it will hurt.
After all, many parents have inadvertently used the age-old threat at home — “If you don’t brush your teeth, I will bring you to the dentist to pluck out your teeth!” That threat would certainly be ringing in their mind, causing anxiety for most children.
What if your child is extremely fearful?
If your child is extremely fearful, the best thing to do is to contact your paediatric dentist before you go for the appointment. Let her know the challenges you perceive. Although I cannot speak for all of us, I believe most paediatric dentists would be appreciative of such a pre-appointment chat.
This helps me to get an idea of what your child is most fearful of and how we can navigate the appointment to avoid these fears. For instance, some children are most fearful of having bright lights in their faces.
Letting me know allows me to switch my plans. For example, I will ask parents to first practise with a small kids’ torchlight at home and bring that torchlight on that day to use. Simple adjustments and being flexible about things can make all the difference in the dental clinic.
How do you calm an anxious child down about a dental procedure?
If your child is very anxious about a dental procedure (e.g. filling or extraction), I have 2 pieces of advice for parents.
- Be honest with your child
I once went to greet a child only to have her scream the moment she arrived. With the best of intentions, her parents had told her she was going to the zoo. She was really upset about not being at the zoo and was not in the best mood for a dental appointment.
- Less is more
While being honest with your child is preferred, sometimes less is more. If your child is very fearful, trying to describe an injection or an extraction in the nicest way can actually feed the fear more.
I like to shift the focus away from the tooth, and place the focus on their well-being. You can say, "Mummy knows your tooth is hurting, so I'm going to bring you to see Dr xxx so that she can help you feel better."
How can I make sure my child doesn’t grow up with dental phobia?
When I ask adults who are fearful of the dentist, they often tell me it is because of their experience with the dentist as a child. Adults who dread going to the dentist tend to be the individuals who need lengthy procedures. It appears that those with good dental health tend not to fear the dentist.
Thus, caring for children’s teeth such that they remain healthy from the moment they emerge is important. It's the secret to ensuring your child enjoys a lifelong journey with dentistry. That's what I aspire for the children who I care for.
Parents would then ask me if I am sabotaging myself and reducing my business. But I will say that I am most proud when I have successfully prevented dental decay in my little patient.
I believe a good paediatric dentist is not one who does the most fillings but the one who manages to have the greatest number of children free of cavities!
How can you find the best child dental clinic and paediatric dentist in Singapore for your child’s needs?
The first dental appointment is like a first date. You should spend the time to get to know your child’s dentist during the dental appointment, making note of how he/she interacts with you and your child.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Are you comfortable discussing your child’s dental concerns?
- Do you feel rushed?
- Do you feel your concerns are dismissed?
- Do you like the style of this dentist?
- Some dentists do not allow parents into the room during treatment. Is that something you are comfortable with?
When it comes to choosing a dentist, I'll admit the skill level and knowledgeability of the paediatric dentist is paramount. However, at the end of the day, the best paediatric dentist for your child is the one that they enjoy going to see.
There may be a degree of trial and error here, but you may shorten this by asking for word of mouth recommendations.
Tip: While asking parent friends is most common, don’t forget that your paediatrician is another excellent source for getting some recommendations too.
Remember, it’s just the “first date” — there's no need to settle for the first one you see.
Training to be a paediatric dentist in Singapore
The road to becoming recognised as a paediatric specialist dentist in Singapore is long and winding.
- 4 years of training at National University of Singapore to earn a basic degree which makes you a general practitioner (GP)
- 2 years spent in general practice before being eligible to enter into postgraduate training
- 3 years postgraduate specialist training to attain a Masters degree. In Singapore, graduating with a Masters doesn't get you recognition as a paediatric specialist
- Minimum of 2 years in specialist practice before sitting for and successfully passing a local Board Examination. You are a now a certified paediatric dentist.
A simple number crunch tells you it takes more than 10 years to become a paediatric dentist. This speaks to their dedication to serving children.
Even my friends have wondered why do I need to go through such intense training since children only have 20 baby teeth!
What are people surprised to find out about paediatric dentists in Singapore?
Most people are surprised to find out that a paediatric dentist is actually an expert in managing children with special needs. Significant exposure to children with autism, speech, feeding disorders, paediatric cancers, and genetic conditions is gained over the training process.
Beyond teeth, your paediatric dentist learns a great deal about how to manage a child. From birth to 18 years, ranging from growth and development, behaviour management, child psychology. We even do selected orthodontic work as well.
Hence, it is worth mentioning here that being posted for short stints (often 6 months long) to a paediatric facility e.g. school dental service does not equate to being a paediatric specialist.
If you are searching for a fully accredited paediatric dentist, spend a moment to check their qualifications to make sure you get one.
Quick tip: There are only 24 paediatric dental specialists currently in Singapore. Check out this link to see the complete listing.
What exactly does a paediatric dentist in Singapore do?
Managing tooth decay is just one aspect of my work as a paediatric dentist. Instead, I like to think of myself as a dental educator.
Just as teachers don't just teach children but inculcate the love of learning, as a paediatric dentist, I don't just teach children how to care for their teeth. I want to help them foster a warm relationship with dentistry right from the start.
Kids reminding their parents before bedtime “Mum you forgot to brush my teeth!” or siblings reminding each other that “Dr Tabitha says (that they) cannot eat so much chocolate” are common stories heard in the clinic. When children take ownership of their own dental health, I know my job is done.
An overview of what I get up to during appointments:
- Detailed oral examination of teeth, gums and jaws
- Dental cleaning
- Managing any detected dental issues (e.g. decay, gum disease)
- Provide counselling on anything that may be age appropriate. For infants, we may chat about breastfeeding, teething, pacifiers and thumbsucking. For toddlers, we may delve into areas like diet, dental injuries and what parents can do to prevent them etc.
- Sharing a customised dental plan for your child
One important role that we undertake is monitoring of your child’s overall health. Paediatric dentists help to provide care way beyond teeth. At least in Singapore, the trend is for children to see their paediatrician fairly regularly in the first 2 years but less so thereafter.
Hence, many paediatric dentists take over the role as the next guardians of your child’s health. We get to see your child regularly into the early adulthood years. This includes flagging issues like obesity, ENT (ear nose throat) concerns etc, and making the relevant referrals back to your relevant specialists.
Which dentists can see and treat children, toddlers and babies in Singapore?
All dentists have some exposure to basic dental care for children during university days, but not all feel the affinity towards seeing kids. They may either choose not to see children or have a cut off age e.g. must be older than 3 years old.
Unless you are seeing a paediatric dentist, it is advisable to call ahead to let the clinic know how old your child is to avoid making a wasted trip.
Given the small number of paediatric dentists in Singapore, general dentists still do see a significant proportion of children. However, if your child requires complex treatment or the management falls outside the general dentist’s level of training, they will refer your child to a paediatric dentist.
How to choose which between a dentist and a paediatric dentist?
How do you choose as parents? Many elements have to be factored into this decision, so here are some general tips from me.
See a paediatric dentist if:
- Your child tends to be younger on the scale of 0-18 years old
- Your child may be fearful or need more guidance in the dental setting
- Significant dental issues are affecting your child e.g. tooth decay, crooked teeth
As previously mentioned in the question How can you find the best child dental clinic and pediatric dentist in Singapore for your child’s needs? (see above), I alluded to the notion that you do not have to stick to the first dentist you meet.
Parents are more than welcome to give both types of dentists a try! Try seeing both a paediatric dentist and a general dentist at least once (you can let some months elapse between the 2 visits) to see which suits you and your child’s needs better.
A personal but very important tip:
My one important advice to any parent: always store the contacts in your phone the names of paediatric dentists that you may wish to see. I learnt this from a parent’s unfortunate experience.
A parent had been notified to pick her child up from school as her child had hurt her mouth and was bleeding quite badly. This parent immediately brought her child to a doctor and waited to be seen.
However, the doctor asked the parent to go find a dentist as it was a dental injury. They then travelled to the nearest dentist and waited some more, only to be told when it was their turn that they needed to go see a paediatric dentist.
By the time the child came to see me that day, still in discomfort and dried blood all over her clothes, 6 whole hours had been spent without getting the attention they needed. Urgent situations like these are very stressful and not the best time to be googling for paediatric dentists.
What’s the difference between GP clinics and paediatric specialty clinics?
A GP clinic in general is designed to cater to adults’ needs while a paediatric clinic is dedicated to a child’s growing needs. Every detail has been carefully thought out to give your child the best experience. From the entertainment in the waiting area, to the decorations at their eye-level, to the arrangement of paediatric dental equipment in the clinic — nothing is there by chance.
However, any one can design a clinic like a paediatric dentist’s. I believe any discerning parent will know that the clinic setup is not as important as the dentist's brain bank of paediatric knowledge.
As a parent, I would want my child’s dentist to be always abreast with new technology and options. This is where it is probably easier to for a paediatric dentist.
We can devote our time to keeping up to date with the world of paediatrics, both medical and dental, building our knowledge bank without having to divide our time amongst adult dental updates.
I hope that this write-up has given you a little insider look into paediatric dentistry in Singapore. Since you’ve managed to make it through to the end of this write up, (Congratulations, this was pretty lengthy!) just like at the end of all my dental appointments, kids get to leave with a reward.
I’d like to reward you with a bonus tip in your search for your child’s paediatric dentist: Go for the first appointment but look beyond the TV screens on the ceiling and the child friendly decorations.
You know that we (paediatric specialists) have got the skills and training. Instead, look into the heart of the paediatric dentist - does this dentist truly care for my child? Would I feel comfortable if this paediatric dentist was my own dentist? If the answers are no, he/she certainly should not be your child’s dentist.
Dr Chng is a Board Certified Paediatric Dentist. She is currently the only paediatric dentist in Singapore to be dually Board Certified by the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry and the Royal College of Dentists of Canada. Her main goal as a paediatric dentist is to provide kids with the best level of care whilst in a safe and friendly environment. Combined with a bubbly personality, she simply loves getting to know her patients and their parents and growing together with them.
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