How to Become a Pediatric Dentist

October 10, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 10/10/23

Are you interested in a career as a pediatric dentist? Our guide will help you navigate your chosen career path, answering how to become a pediatric dentist. 

Aside from the educational requirements needed for this career, we will also answer other questions like how long it takes to become a pediatric dentist.

While other healthcare professionals, such as nurses and veterinarians, assist patients by treating and managing various health conditions, pediatric dentists make children’s day brighter by fixing their smiles. So, if you love working with children and are interested in dentistry, a career as a pediatric dentist may be right up your alley.

Discover the duties that come with this exciting career, alongside the educational requirements and career outlook for this dental specialties.

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What Does a Pediatric Dentist Do?

When you go to get your annual cleanings, you typically visit a family or general dentist. However, children who require specific oral care due to sensitivity, anxiety, or special needs, are referred to pediatric dentists. These healthcare professionals exist to serve the dental needs of younger patients from infancy to adolescence. 

Armed with knowledge about children’s teeth development and dental diseases, pediatric dentists often use special equipment for children. They perform a variety of tasks including:

  • Examination of teeth
  • Monitoring a child’s tooth development
  • Educating patients and their children about proper oral hygiene habits
  • Treating or monitoring diseases, including gum disease or tooth decay
  • Emergency dental care due to injury (e.g., fractured teeth)

Besides their regular responsibilities, a pediatric dentist must make children comfortable! Children can be intimidated by dentists, and these professionals have the expertise needed to ease such anxieties.

Pediatric dentists can work in various settings, including private practices, community health centers, research institutions, universities, and children’s hospitals. In the following few sections, we’ll discuss information about this specialty, including how to become a pediatric dentist, how long it takes, and salary expectations!

Steps to Becoming a Pediatric Dentist

There are several steps to becoming a pediatric dentist, including several years of school, training geared toward child care, and studying child psychology. 

Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

Dental schools consider students with bachelor’s degrees, especially from four-year programs. Often, many dental students with bachelor’s degrees had an educational focus on science, mainly related to biology, chemistry, or human anatomy. Other courses like child psychology or business may be helpful for dental school, especially while pursuing pediatric dentistry.

Going To Dental School

After obtaining a bachelor’s (or even a master’s) degree, students can apply to dental school to get a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS). Dental school takes four years to complete, like many bachelor's degrees. Students focus on learning dentistry through the classroom and hands-on education during this time.

To be considered for dental school, students must complete the Dental Acceptance Test (DAT), an assessment that helps schools determine an applicant’s candidacy for dental school.

Receiving a License

To be legally entitled to practice pediatric dentistry in the US, dental students must complete and pass the National Board of Dental Examination (NBDE), as administered by the American Dental Association (ADA). This two-part test includes a written and clinical exam to test a tester’s dentistry knowledge and clinical skills.

Residency In Pediatric Dentistry

During a student’s final year of dental school, they are required to pick a residency prior to graduation. Students who can snag a spot in pediatric dentistry will spend two to three years in this residency. A residency in pediatric dentistry provides a combination of clinical experience and knowledge development of child psychology.

As a pediatric dentistry resident, you will have a chance to interact with actual patients, building your skills in helping young patients with dental care. During this time, residents will also learn about child psychology, youth development, or pediatric pharmacology to enhance their understanding of children and adolescents.

After their residency is completed, dentists can officially pursue their board certification to become a Diplomate of Pediatric Dentistry and practice as a pediatric dentist.

Pediatric Dentist Salary and Career Outlook

Though the numbers may vary, it’s reported that the average salary for a pediatric dentist is around $206,892 per year. Reportedly, the lowest salary hovers around $142,000, while tenured pediatric dentists reportedly make about $311,000 annually.

The salary for a pediatric dentist may vary depending on the state of employment. Places that pay well include: 

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment within dentistry will increase by 4% in the next few years, primarily due to an existing labor force. Specifically, specialty dentistry (like pediatric dentistry) is expected to grow by about 3% in a few years. There is also likely to be increasing employment of pediatric dentistry in dental offices, ambulatory care, and hospitals

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Pediatric Dentist?

You now understand how to become a pediatric dentist, but it’s also important to understand the skills needed to succeed. Though being well-versed in dental diseases and procedures are assets, there are other skills vital to becoming a well-rounded pediatric dentist!

Day in and day out, pediatric dentists are constantly interacting with children. But, unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to encounter children who are terrified of their friendly dentists! That’s why pediatric dentists need to have strong interpersonal skills to ease their patient’s anxieties about dental cleanups.

Additionally, it’s useful for pediatric dentists to be skilled communicators who are patient, especially while interacting with children. Other valuable skills to have as a pediatric dentist include the following:

  • Time management
  • Organization
  • Customer service
  • Detail-oriented

These traits are not only useful to have while interacting with patients but colleagues as well. Aside from patients, pediatric dentists are also collaborating with other dental professionals.

FAQs: Becoming a Pediatric Dentist

Are you an ambitious student curious about pediatric dentistry? From grasping its difficulty to understanding how long it takes to become a pediatric dentist, find your answers through these FAQs!

1.How Long Does It Take to Become a Pediatric Dentist?

It can take about 11 to 12 years to become a pediatric dentist. The common educational pathway of a pediatric dentist includes: obtaining a bachelor’s degree (four years), completing dental school (four years), and completing a residency in pediatric dentistry (two to three years).

2. Is Becoming a Pediatric Dentist Hard?

As with many healthcare occupations, becoming a pediatric dentist takes work. Dental schools in North America are competitive like their medical school counterparts. Scoring a residency in pediatric dentistry can also prove challenging and is considered one of the most competitive dental residencies alongside oral surgery and orthodontics.

Don’t let the challenges of pursuing pediatric dentistry deter you! 

Pediatric dentistry may be your calling if you’re passionate about dental health and want a career working with children. Besides stellar grades and impressive extracurriculars, superb communication skills and interest in working with children are vital tools to drive you toward becoming a pediatric dentist.

3. Is Being a Pediatric Dentist Stressful?

Like many professions, there are some challenges with being a pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentists must be ready to handle children who may be irritable or exhibit challenging behaviors, including crying, anger, or avoidant tendencies. These professionals must understand the perspectives of these patients, who are often anxious and afraid.

Residency in pediatric dentistry may be stressful for some students due to multitasking with clinical work, clinical rotations, projects, and other responsibilities. Interestingly, a study from the Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry observed that pediatric dentists and dental students reported high stress with certain tasks, especially administering local anesthesia to anxious children.

4. Where Do Pediatric Dentists Get Paid the Most?

The average salary for pediatric dentists ranges from about $206,892 per year, with a salary variation. However, salaries may vary depending on where the pediatric dentist works. For example, cities that pay these specialists well include Philadelphia ($225,000), Phoenix, ($205,000), Miami ($175,000), and Houston ($172,464).

Final Thoughts

Pediatric dentistry is an excellent career choice for people interested in dentistry and who have a passion for working with kids. Becoming a pediatric dentist may take several years, and the profession is not without its challenges (and difficult patients). However, this profession comes with the reward of helping young patients develop good oral hygiene habits and picture-perfect smiles!

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