by Mia Barnes
Are you one of the many taking advantage of a changing job market to upgrade your career? If you enjoy helping young people take charge of their health, a future in pediatric dentistry could be right for you.
Breaking in typically requires some schooling, although you’ll learn much of what you need to know on the job. You also need the perfect blend of compassion, empathy and a warm bedside manner. Ready to explore the field? Here are six facts about what it’s like to work in pediatric dentistry.
1. You Learn to Separate Fact From Myth
Did you know that the animal with the biggest teeth in the world doesn’t use them for eating or hunting? The sperm whale’s chompers can tip the scales at a kilo apiece, but they aren’t used for chewing plankton. Rather, this behemoth of the deep reserves them for display. Cueing your youngest patients into this groovy fact can inspire them to polish their own pearlies so they can show them off SeaWorld-style.
Some facts are a bit more sobering. Did you know that nearly a quarter of 2- to 5-year-old children have cavities already? Part of your career in pediatric dentistry includes educating patients and their parents on the correct cleaning schedule. The best time for their first visit is right after a tooth emerges or before their first birthday — whichever comes first.
2. You Get Specialty Training
There’s a world of difference between working with adult patients and the little ones. You’ll notice it regardless of whether you seek training as a dentist or hygienist or stick to administrative duties.
The most significant difference is that adult dentistry deals with a fully developed set of teeth. Pediatric dentistry, conversely, often focuses on baby teeth and those that follow later.
You may encounter impacted teeth, where adult chompers cannot erupt because of a baby tooth blocking the way. This condition normally strikes wisdom teeth but can occur elsewhere in the mouth. You’ll also spend time cheering up adolescent patients dismayed after learning they’ll need braces.
3. You Soothe Many Anxious Nerves
A child’s earliest experiences at a dentist go a long way toward influencing how compliant they’ll be with routine care as they age. Most adult insurance plans do not include dental coverage, and far too many adults already skip necessary treatments because of the expense. If they suffer flashbacks of painful experiences in the chair, they’ll be even less willing to cough up the cash once they clear their 18th birthday.
If your role gives you direct contact with patients, you’ll spend considerable time holding hands and reassuring little ones how brave they are. Your compassionate bedside manner could mean the difference between a young patient who grows up to have healthy teeth as an adult and one whose neglect leads to further health problems.
4. You Get to Give Away Fabulous Prizes
Believe it or not, many dentists used to reward kids with candy after a tough appointment. Most modern minds agree it’s better to go with treats that won’t rot their teeth, like balloons and small toys.
Either way, your work in pediatric dentistry will give you multiple occasions to distribute prizes. Seeing the smile on a little one’s face when you hand them a SpongeBob balloon for their bravery makes you quickly forget any tears they shed.
5. You Have a Fun Working Environment
Have you had your fill of spending eight hours a day staring at institutional green walls interrupted by cubicles? Why not upgrade to a fun working environment replete with bright colors and oodles of toys? A career in pediatric dentistry lets you do just that.
You might even get to bring out your artistic side if your practice decides to remodel. Painting a mural in your waiting room provides a necessary distraction. You can transform an entire wall into a “Where’s Waldo”-style puzzle with various objects for the toddler set to find.
Interactive toys can serve an educational purpose. For example, you can provide toy models of teeth in waiting areas. You can even find sets designed to help the littlest patients practice their brushing skills.
6. You Make a Lasting Difference in Family’s Lives
Perhaps the best reason to go into pediatric dentistry is the opportunity to make a lasting difference in patient lives. Teeth aren’t luxury bones — oral hygiene plays a vital role in overall health.
For example, the same plaque that causes gingivitis might increase an individual’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Your warm bedside manner they remember from childhood could inspire them to seek regular cleanings as adults, reducing the possibility they’ll battle dementia in their later years.
Pediatric Dentistry Is Worth Exploring
Has the great resignation got you thinking about changing careers? If you share a passion for children and health, perhaps pediatric dentistry is your calling.
Now that you know what it’s like to work in this exciting field, your next step is to explore your options. Polish your resume or start seeking the perfect certification program that helps you protect the teeth of future generations.
Mia Barnes is a health journalist and Editor in Chief at Body + Mind.
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