Your child will encounter numerous medical professionals from the moment they are born. These people are there for your child as much as they are there for you to answer questions, diagnose illness, and ensure overall health. Some children only ever see the family doctor, while others may need an allergist or orthodontist. Here are just some of the medical professionals your child may come into contact with.
Pediatrician or family physician
The choice between a pediatrician and a family physician or general practitioner is for you to make. Both can meet children’s needs, including:
annual physical exams
treatment of common illnesses
Most people opt for a pediatrician, especially in the child’s youngest years. However, seeing a family doctor means your child could be with the same doctor their entire life. If your child sees a pediatrician, then they will usually switch to a general practitioner after puberty is complete. This happens around 16 or 17 years of age.
When your child is first born, they will need to go to the pediatrician or family doctor quite frequently. Within the first year of life, your new baby will need up to six “well-baby” or “well-child” visits. During these visits, they will be weighed, have their development assessed, and receive vaccinations. However, after the 12-month mark, the recommended frequency of these visits drops off significantly and may vary according to your practitioner. An annual well-child visit is still advised for children older than 3 years.
When your child gets their first tooth, it’s time to think about a dentist. The American Dental Association recommends that children have their first dental appointment within six months of cutting their first tooth, and no later than their 1st birthday.
This visit includes a physical exam of the mouth and an information session for you. Early examinations will help protect your child’s teeth and set up a lifetime of good dental habits. Follow the first trip with semiannual visits for teeth cleaning and exams. The dentist will take X-rays as the child gets older to ensure all of the teeth are coming in properly and that there are no cavities.
Many children require treatment by an orthodontist, a doctor specially trained in braces. If your child’s adult teeth are coming in crooked, your dentist could refer you to an orthodontist to see if braces may help.
Optometrist or ophthalmologist
Your child will have their first eye exam in the delivery room. The attending doctor will inspect their eyes and how they respond to light. Their pediatrician will then periodically perform tests, as will their school nurse. But when a vision problem is suspected, a complete screening is needed and your child may be referred to an optometrist. If your child is very young or your pediatrician suspects a disorder or disease of the eye, they will likely refer you to a pediatric ophthalmologist.
Both optometrists and ophthalmologists specialize in the treatment of eyes and problems affecting the eyes. Both are often referred to as eye doctors. The difference is that an ophthalmologist can perform surgeries, while an optometrist cannot.
Your child may be referred to the eye doctor by their primary care doctor, by the school nurse, or even by their teacher. If your child seems to squint or moves closer to something they are trying to read, it could be a sign that they need glasses.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should typically have their eyes examined at each well-baby visit, and at no later than the age of 6 months.
Between the ages of 1 and 4 years, they can begin screenings for potential vision problems. Starting at the age of 5, it’s recommended that children have eye exams every year.
The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends that each young woman have her first gynecological visit between the ages of 13 and 15 years. This doesn’t mean she will have her first pelvic exam or Pap smear. The first visit lays the groundwork for future visits and provides an opportunity for the doctor to discuss many topics, including:
Young women should visit their gynecologist every year. Many pediatricians can also do these visits, though some do not. Talk to your teen about what she prefers.
Depending on your child’s health, they could see many other medical professionals. Someone who struggles with allergies, for instance, may see an allergist. Recurring throat or ear infections could lead them to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor. Generally, your child’s pediatrician or family doctor will refer you to the medical professionals your child needs to see, if any.
If your child develops asthma or has frequent allergic reactions that impair their daily life, they may be referred to an allergist. An allergist will perform specific tests to determine whether your child has allergies or sensitivities to their environment. They can recommend treatments and medications to make breathing easier as well.
An endocrinologist is a doctor who specializes in understanding the body’s metabolism and production of hormones. If your child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes or a hormone imbalance, you will need to bring them to a doctor specializing in endocrinology. Thyroid and adrenal issues, though unlikely to occur in babies, are often discovered as a child approaches puberty. An endocrinologist can diagnose and treat these conditions.
A dermatologist diagnoses and treats diseases of the skin. Birthmarks and inherited skin disorders may need to be addressed by a dermatologist after your child is first born. As your child approaches puberty, they may need a dermatologist to help them deal with hormonal acne and other skin changes that occur as they get older. Although there are dermatologists who specialize in pediatric medicine, most dermatologists can assess skin problems in any age group.
Child psychologist or psychiatrist
A child’s mental health is just as important as their physical health. Sometimes a traumatic event, the death of a loved one, or big changes in family life will mean that your child needs to speak with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Whether mental health symptoms are behavioral or emotional, it’s important to address the way your child feels and make sure that they know they have someone to talk to. Sometimes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, or other learning challenges make a mental health professional an essential part of your child’s academic success as well. If your child needs to be prescribed medication for a mental health diagnosis, then they will need to see a child psychiatrist.
If your child is diagnosed with a serious and ongoing medical condition, they may need to be treated in a children’s hospital. The advantage of a children’s hospital is that the equipment and treatment options are tailored to the needs of children, and the staff have been specially trained to communicate with and be sensitive to children. Only 1 in 20 hospitals in the United States is a children’s hospital, so traveling to one is not always convenient. But if your child is in a situation where specialized care is required, going to a children’s hospital might make for a better and more effective experience.
There are a number of choices you may need to make about your child’s health care providers. Your child’s primary care physician, whether it be a pediatrician or family care doctor, will be able to assist you in referrals and determining whether additional specialists are necessary to oversee your child’s health.