What You Should Know Before Applying to a Pediatric Dental Residency Program
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 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.
Residency is a Real Job
Now that we’ve discussed why someone may want to be a pediatric dentist, let’s discuss their residency program.
Residency programs are a real job with enforceable contracts. The contract will outline the program’s expectations for residents, and you will be expected to meet those obligations. The residency programs and affiliated hospitals will also do a background check. The laws vary for background checks in each state. If you have any issues in your past, it is best to clean them up and communicate them early. A blemish in your background check will not be overlooked, but it is possible to gain acceptance if you are honest about your past.
If the admissions committee is surprised by anything of significance in your background check during the interview process, it can be detrimental to your acceptance. The personal statement might be a good place to start when it comes to explaining how you have grown since any such incidents, and a good editor[ will be able to help you craft a story that informs your reader about your past while highlighting your personal growth since the mishap.
Building a Strong Application
Since pediatric dentistry is a popular specialty, admission is highly competitive. Most residency directors agree that to be a great pediatric specialist, you must first become a good general dentist. With this in mind, it is important to not neglect any coursework during dental school. However, as you progress towards graduation, you should excel in your pediatric dental courses, and try to gain as much experience working with children as you can.
Letters of recommendation carry significant weight in the application process. While a student, you must network with the faculty within the pediatric dental department, so you’ll be able to ask for strong letters of recommendation written by people with influence in the specialty. Because pediatric dentistry consists of a small community of specialists, obtaining letters of recommendation from respected practitioners can boost your application to the top of the pile.
Every year, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry hosts an annual session. If you are truly interested in becoming a pediatric dentist, it would be a wise investment to attend one of their sessions. This would give you a chance to explore many of the current topics in pediatric dentistry while networking and meeting other individuals within the profession. This experience would also greatly enhance your interview, as you would have more current and relevant information to discuss with residents and faculty. If you cannot attend the AAPD annual meeting, recorded sessions are usually available online. Your pediatric dental department may have access to these recordings for free while you’re a student. There is also a pediatric dental podcast that provides a wealth of information at no cost.
If you want to improve your odds of getting into a residency program, consider completing a research project. Many pediatric dental candidates consider research to be something they have absolutely no interest in doing because they’re too focused on private practice opportunities and learning to take care of patients. But if you want to improve your odds of getting into a residency program, a positive attitude toward research should be developed. Not only do you learn a lot during the process, but any research project you choose to produce could potentially benefit your application because you’re building relationships with people with academic influence.
If you happen to get published, the person reviewing your application may be familiar with your co-authors or may have even read your publication. Since the faculty members whose opinion matters most during the admissions process have chosen to work in an academic setting, every resume which has publications associated with it will always gain special attention.
As a part of the application process, you will have to write a personal statement. This is a crucial part of the application process which requires significant planning and timing. The statement is an opportunity to sell yourself and tell your story. If you need help getting started with your personal statement, you can get 10 tips here: https://zipistry.com/ten-tips-for-better-personal-statements/
Almost all of the residency program directors tend to not accept applicants, even if they might be in the top five percent of the dental school class if they have a poor reputation. Rejection can happen regardless of a student’s academic standing. While some students may protest – it’s important to always remember acceptance is going to take more than great grades and board scores.
The interview process is so important it deserves an entire whitepaper dedicated to the subject.
You can download that whitepaper here: https://embrasurespace.com/product/preparing-for-pediatric-dentistry-residency-interviews-a-resource-for-potential-residents/
What Happens if You Do Not Match?
Every year, some slots go unfilled. If you do not match, work quickly with the pediatric dental faculty at your dental school to determine which unmatched positions are available. Quickly evaluate each opening and decide if the program could be a good fit for you. This is a race, so move quickly if you suspect you may not Match based on your interview performance(s). During Post-Match, decisions are made very quickly to fill each opening, and a great deal of trust between each party is involved because there is not an opportunity to conduct in-person interviews. Under these circumstances, a recommendation or call from one of your dental school’s faculty on your behalf can be what helps you secure the position.
A Good Backup Plan
If you are positive you will reapply next year, you could do an AEGD or GPR. Many GPR and AEDG programs across the country will have positions that were not filled during Match. Accepting a position in one of these programs could add a year of experience to your CV and expand your network. There are also Indian Health Services clinics and other FQHCs where you could gain employment to strengthen your application for the next year. When deciding between employment in private practice, an FQHC, or a residency, I tend to favor residency experience, because your start and end dates are predictable, and the people you build relationships with during your residency are more likely to be connected to the residency program directors, so their recommendations often carry more weight.
Finally, if your mentors inform you it is your academic performance that is preventing you from getting into a residency program, there is a clear and well-documented path for you. You can apply to a one-year MA in a public health degree program. Some of these programs are offered at the same institutions where your dental school is located. Sometimes, the public health department has an established relationship with the pediatric dental department, so positive recommendations are taken seriously. Many of these classes can be taken online. If you score academically well in a public health MA, doors will be open for you in pediatric dentistry. A twelve-month program is a short amount of time to invest to increase your chances of doing what you love for the rest of your life.
Pediatric dentistry is an amazing specialty that can be extremely rewarding for the right personality. The application process is competitive and qualified applicants need to prepare themselves many months in advance to put together a competitive application. For those who do apply, I hope this guide was helpful and that you secure a spot in a pediatric dental residency program.