The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry refers to pediatric dentists as the “big authority on little teeth,” and how true this is. The specialized branch of dentistry deals with children from birth to adolescence, promoting children’s dental health and educating parents on how to set their children up for good dental health throughout their lives.
Cayman Health talked to Dr. Sean Childers, a member of our advisory panel and a renowned local pediatric dentist based at Dr. Wolf’s Dental Centre. He filled us in on the lengthy, difficult, but ultimately fulfilling road to specializing in this field.
How does one become a Pediatric Dentist?
In my case, and most typically, one becomes a Pediatric Dentist after first completing dental school and becoming a General Dentist. After acceptance into a Pediatric Specialty Program in Graduate Studies at an accredited school, in my case the University of Toronto, you are typically required to complete a true three-year Masters of Science in Pediatric Dentistry.
What does the Masters of Science in Pediatric Dentistry entail?
There are two main components to a program such as this. Firstly, you have a heavy lecture schedule combined with a research project. The research must be relevant to the specialty of Pediatric Dentistry.
At the end of your research over the three years you must accomplish two things:
1) Successfully defend the results of your research and statics before a panel of interrogators (Masters Defense Panel usually comprised of Phds whom you have never met)
2) Successfully publish your results in a highly regarded Pediatric Dental Journal
There is also a similarly heavy clinical component which focuses on the specialized training which your specialty designates. This includes dealing with children who have medical issues or syndromes which are not common and require special attention and care; various types of sedation techniques for young or non-compliant children; advanced orthodontic interventions; oral surgery techniques such as frenectomies and wisdom tooth removal too advanced for general dentistry; preventive strategies tailored to avoid issues before they arise, etc.
Most Pediatric Specialty programs in North America are connected in some way to a combined hospital residency, in my case the world-renowned Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. There we also had a lot of emergency calls and had extensive training in dealing with pediatric “dental trauma” in addition to dealing with syndromic, medically compromised (i.e.. Leukemia, Cystic Fibrosis, heart defects, etc.), and mentally challenged patients (Autistic, Down’s Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to name a few).
Last but not least, upon successful thesis defense and completion of your Masters of Science degree, a Pediatric Dentist is required to become “Board Certified.” This involves an extremely grueling week of comprehensive examinations covering everything from A to Z. I was fortunate to pass on my first try – I don’t think I would have survived a second round!
Now maybe you can understand why it vexes me when other general dentists who may have an affinity for treating children but have not undergone the extensive and at all times grueling training that I had to endure, call themselves pediatric dentists.
Why is it better for a child to see a Board-Certified Pediatric Dentist than a General Dentist?
The answer to this is simple. Pediatric dentists follow the strict protocols and guidelines for practicing every aspect of anything to do with pediatric dentistry as set forth by the Canadian and American Association of Pediatric Dentistry (CAPD & AAPD). They are basically synonymous.
Why is this important?
Because Pediatric Dental Specialists are the product of “Evidence Based Learning.” Everything we do is based upon, in other words, the Science. We take the results of every study ever done on everything related to pediatric dentistry and scrutinize it and discard or refine it to make the best possible judgments with regards to how to proceed or conduct ourselves with regards to anything related to our specialty.
We eliminate the folklore and erroneous subjectiveness that is far too prevalent in the field of dentistry. And far too many general dentists out there are still telling parents the wrong things. Things that were proven to be wrong many years ago but as they say, “old habits die hard.” I personally had to change or throw out many things that I was taught in dental school after going through my graduate program and the evidence-based approach, simply because they were proven to be scientifically wrong.
I was also taught to be have a more pragmatic and common-sense approach to dentistry. I think learning how to interject common sense into dentistry helped me more than anything become a better (and more confident) dentist. More people need to take the time to ask themselves, “does this make sense,” before doing something.