Most people in the United States know that a "dentist" is a specialist in the medical care of the mouth and teeth, and the majority of these people would also understand that there is a significant amount of training and education that goes into becoming a dentist. One of the aspects of the profession that may be misunderstood by the public is the specializations within the field, and the fact that just because a person has gone through the training that will allow a certification to practice as a dentist, it alone does not provide them with the additional knowledge that is necessary for a specialization. There are varying degrees of specialization that all require different training courses, college degrees and certification. Within this large array of different specializations that are available to dentists, the specialization of becoming a "pediatric dentist" is one that requires training that most others do not.
In order to become a practicing dentist in the United States, one must go through the steps of obtaining a bachelor's degree as well as completion of dental school. Although there are no undergraduate degrees being offered specifically in dentistry, many colleges offer undergraduate dental training programs that will prepare students for eventual dental school by including the specific prerequisites necessary to advance on. The prerequisites generally necessary for admission to dental school involve applied science courses and labs in biology, chemistry, math and physics. After completion of the undergraduate program and passing the DAT (Dental Admission Test) the student is able to apply for dental school, which will generally involve four years of study and hands-on experience, ultimately culminating in a DDS (Doctor Of Dental Surgery.) Only upon certification and receipt of this doctorate combined with the licensing requirements of the individual state will a person be allowed to practice as a general dentist. This does not allow that particular dentist to practice a specialty like pediatric dentistry without even more training and certifications.
All states require licensure in order to practice pediatric dentistry, usually involving the meeting of educational requirements and completion of a residency or specialty exam. There are additional board certifications that can be obtained but are not required to practice the specialty. In order to obtain the training necessary to become a dentist who works with children you will need to complete additional educational courses and hands-on training working with patients. The aspects of this specialized education that are not typically covered in dental school involve child behavior and psychology, tooth trauma, adolescent growth and development and childhood preventive care. These topics which apply the dental arts to the special cases of children will assist the pediatric dentist in understanding not only how to care for the teeth of children, but how to make children comfortable while they are at the dentist being examined and cared for. They will understand the mentality of a child when it comes to home dental care, brushing, flossing and protection of their teeth. They will understand how to help parents to keep their children's teeth healthy, which makes the whole family happier. If you have children, ask your dentist if they are specialized in pediatric dentistry, you will be glad you did.