What You Should Know Before Applying to a Pediatric Dental Residency Program

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Pediatric dentists separate themselves from general dentists, by gaining familiarity with current and historic literature in the field of pediatric dentistry and becoming masters of behavior modification techniques necessary for working with anxious children. Depending on the program, obtaining your certificate in pediatric dentistry requires two to three years of additional education and training beyond your general dental coursework.

By the time you are ready to apply to specialize, your CV should have a significant amount of pediatric dental experiences, community service, research, and other extracurricular activities supporting your decision to pursue the specialty. The resume, which accompanies your application, needs to highlight past work experiences and accomplishments, as well as show a true interest in helping children.

It’s important to remember that pediatric dentists need to have a high level of passion and desire to take care of their patients, because of the emotions involved in managing patient behavior.  Most adults are motivated to go to the dentist to maintain their oral health.  But children typically go to the dentist because their parents take them to establish a dental home for prevention, anticipatory guidance, and treatment. Since most children can be intimidated by dental treatment, managing their behavior can be challenging.

Pediatric dentists face unique challenges, as they must understand the psychological development of a child from infancy through adolescence, and its application to dentistry. In our modern society, children face a plethora of emotional challenges. The dental clinic setting introduces challenges that can influence a child’s behavior, so one of the primary objectives for residents is to learn how to manage the psychological state of children. While there is an academic component to this management, there is also an artistic side. Since every pediatric dentist has his or her unique personality, he or she will decide how to interpret the literature during the development of their style of behavior management.

As you prepare to apply, ask yourself: what activities do you engage in to help you develop the skills necessary for managing the behavior of anxious children?

There will be some patients who will not respond to any kind of behavior management due to being pre-cooperative or simply being too young to follow directions. A child may also have certain traumas or may live in a state of toxic stress. Sometimes, behavior cannot be managed, because pain cannot be managed without pharmacological intervention. Some of these patients will require conscious sedation or general anesthesia to receive high-quality dental care. Since sedation of children is a tool that many pediatric dentists must employ during their careers, the training which goes into this part of your education is intense and demanding.

The primary dentition is also very different from adult dentition. Children are not just smaller versions of adults. Many of the restorative procedures which work in the permanent dentition (process?) do not work well for children. As the primary teeth are going to exfoliate, pediatric dentists are often looking for temporary and functional solutions which are predictable to perform, in an attempt to minimize the number of visits required to complete treatment. While general dentists are often concentrating on the restoration of one tooth, or one quadrant of teeth during an appointment, pediatric dentists are often determined to restore one arch or both arches during an appointment, because breaking treatment into several visits can be detrimental to a child’s perception of dental care.

Pediatric dentists also become masters of development for primary and mixed dentitions, which can include intervention with early orthodontics. A child could need a dental appliance, clear aligners, braces, spacers or extractions, to achieve normal-appearing detention by adolescence. For applicants with an interest in surgery, pediatric dentists can work alongside oral surgeons, because some children might even need craniofacial surgery to achieve an ideal result. With such a wide scope of practice options, pediatric dentists can tailor their careers to become much more than just simple dentistry for children.

For the right personality, working with children can also be more fun than working with the adult population. Easing a child’s fears, educating their parents, and preparing your patients for a healthy future, can make for an extremely fun and rewarding career. Helping children move past any initial anxiety when they present at the office for their appointments, can help them develop a lifetime of healthy habits. Many of the dental procedures done in the primary and early adult dentition, are also technically simple and have the high-income potential for pediatric dentists. The flexibility, challenges, and potential rewards of pediatric dentistry have helped pediatric dentistry become one of the more popular dental specialties.

Ultimately, the goal of the pediatric dentist is to provide as much prevention as possible, anticipatory guidance, manage the development of the adult occlusion, and set the patient up for high-quality oral health as an adult.

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