Education and Training Requirements
If you are considering a career as a pediatric dentist, be sure to study biology, chemistry, physics, health, and mathematics in high school, preferably in an honors or advanced placement curriculum. English and foreign language courses are also important for meeting college entrance requirements and developing good communications skills. Participation in extracurricular activities will also enhance your background because it provides opportunities to develop interpersonal skills. Learning a foreign language such as Spanish will improve communication with patients and parents who do not speak English as a first language.
The dental profession is selective, and standards are high. Your college grades and the amount of college education you have completed at the time of application are carefully considered in the admissions process for dental school. In addition, all dental schools approved by the American Dental Association (ADA) require applicants to pass the Dental Admissions Test, which gauges a student’s prospects of success or failure in dental school. Information on tests and testing centers may be obtained from the Council on Dental Education and Licensure of the ADA.
Dental schools require at least two years of college-level predental education. However, about 80 percent of students entering dental schools have already earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Professional training in a dental school generally requires four academic years. Many dental schools have an interdisciplinary curriculum in which the dental student studies basic science with students of medicine, pharmacy, and other health professions. Clinical training is frequently begun in the second year. Most schools now feature a department of community dentistry, which involves a study of communities, urban problems, and sociology, and includes treatment of patients from the community. Generally the degree of doctor of dental surgery (D.D.S.) is granted upon graduation, although some schools give the degree of doctor of dental medicine (D.D.M. or D.M.D.).
Dental students who wish to become pediatric dentists should plan on postgraduate study that typically ranges from 24 to 36 months. The average program length is 25 months, according to the ADA. There are more than 85 postgraduate pediatric dental programs in the United States and Canada. A dentist may obtain further training as a dental intern or resident in an approved hospital. Dentists must continually keep abreast of developments in the profession by reading professional magazines and journals, taking short-term graduate courses, and participating in seminars.
Other Education or Training
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry offers continuing education courses and seminars for members on topics such as current and emerging practice issues, pediatric emergencies, and practice management. The American Dental Association provides seminars, online classes, and other continuing education opportunities for dentists. Contact these organizations for more information.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
The American Board of Pediatric Dentistry offers certification to pediatric dentists. Contact the board for more information.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia require dentists to be licensed. To qualify for a license in most states, a candidate must graduate from a dental school accredited by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation and pass written and practical examinations. Candidates may fulfill the written part of the exam by passing the National Board Dental Examinations. Individual states or regional testing agencies give the written or practical examinations. Generally, dentists licensed in one state are required to take another exam to practice in another state, although some states grant licenses to dentists from other states based on their credentials. Dentists who intend to practice in a specialty area must be licensed or certified in certain states.
For more specific details about state licensure requirements for U.S. dentists, visit the American Dental Association's Web site, https://www.ada.org/en/education-careers/licensure/state-dental-licensure-for-us-dentists.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Dental students gain experience by completing clinical rotations, including one or more in pediatric dentistry.
Manual dexterity and scientific ability are important. Skilled, steady hands are necessary, as are good spatial judgment and some artistic ability. Good vision is required because of the detailed work. Strong communication skills are necessary to interact well with patients and coworkers. Pediatric dentists must have considerable patience with children, who sometimes can be uncooperative or fearful of dental procedures.