Pediatric dentistry: is it right for you?

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A pre-dentistry student learning from her dentist mentor in TanzaniaIf you are considering becoming a dentist and you enjoy working with children, you can combine the two. Becoming a pediatric dentist involves caring for the dental health of children from infancy through adolescence. Good oral hygiene should start early. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, parents are advised to take their children to the dentist by one year of age.  Even very young children can have cavities and develop dental problems.

What does a pediatric dentist do?

Preventing dental problems and tooth decay is a big part of being a pediatric dentist. Dentists educate children and their parents on proper oral care and dental hygiene.

Pediatric dentists also perform exams, cleanings and repair cavities or other dental problems. Although not as common as in adults, kids can develop gum disease. Dentists who work with children also treat pediatric periodontal disease and treat injuries to the teeth from trauma.  They may also assess and treat older children for problems with their bite or crooked teeth.

Family dentist versus pediatric dentist   

Pediatric dentists have additional training beyond four years of dental school. Their additional training provides them with the expertise and knowledge of treating children.

Children may have different concerns than adults when going to the dentist. They need a dentist to take a special approach to make the experience less frightening and as pain free as possible. Pediatric dental staff create an environment where children can feel comfortable going to the dentist. For example, pediatric dentists may design their office to be kid-friendly with games and toys to keep children occupied in the waiting room.

Pediatric dental practices may offer sedation dentistry including nitrous oxide or medication in order to perform dental procedures on children who may be unable to relax or are too young to remain still. 

Training

Children are not just miniature adults. Their dental problems, concerns and needs may be different than an adults. If you are interested in becoming a pediatric dentist, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree and take the required science and math classes needed for admission into dental school. The Dental Admission Exam is also required for admission to dental school. After graduating from dental school, additional training is needed to become a pediatric dentist.  A pediatric dental residency, which is between two and three years long, is required to become board certified in pediatric dentistry

Personality needed

If you want to become a pediatric dentist, it is helpful to have certain personality traits. Obviously, you must enjoy working with children. Pediatric dentists work with kids of all ages and different approaches are needed for different age groups. For example, you need to explain a procedure differently to a five year old than you would a teen.

Pediatric dentists should also be naturally patient and have a calm demeanor. Certain procedures may take longer with children, and you may need to ease children into an exam or cleaning. Having a relaxed manner will also help kids feel more relaxed. 

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