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Charting a Career in Pediatric Dentistry
As a boy sitting in Dr. Eli Zebooker’s office, Theodore P. Croll, DDS, was impressed by how kindly the dentist cared for children. “Dr. Zebooker’s influence—his subtle influence—made me think, ‘This man helps people, and I’d like to be like that,’” Croll says.
Today, reflecting on more than 40 years as a successful pediatric dentist and prolific author (including children’s books), Croll says his love for children inspires him and he urges others to pursue a career in pediatric dentistry.
Choosing additional education after dental school not only adds to a practitioner’s level of expertise, but can also expand financial and job opportunities. Becoming a pediatric dentist requires a 2-year residency program, after graduation from dental school, immersing them in scientific study and clinical experience, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). However, it is not as easy as simply choosing pediatric dentistry and applying to a program. For the 2015-2016 academic year 10,716 applications were submitted to pediatric dentistry programs, with just 448 applicants, or 4%, accepted for first-year enrollment, according to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA).
“The battle to get into a pediatric program is intensifying,” explains Croll, “because people with master’s degrees and PhDs are applying, and sometimes there are hundreds of applicants for a few spots in those specialty programs.” However, this is not unique to this specialty; according to the ADEA, for general dentistry programs the applications were 17,813 versus 1,947 accepted for the 2015-2016 academic year. “If you really have it in your heart that you want to be a pediatric dentist, don’t give up even if you’re not accepted in the first year—go back, get yourself a master’s degree, maybe a PhD—don’t give up. Persistence is key,” Croll adds.
Croll says continuing education remains valuable for pediatric dentists, as new fluoride treatments, sealants, and other cutting-edge products become available. “For example, I’m using a filling material that didn’t exist 3 years ago, which is showing signs of being much better for my patients,” Croll says. In addition, the AAPD offers continuing education courses throughout the year and at its annual meeting that allows members to stay current on the latest research and literature. “Keeping up-to-date is critical; there are very few things I’m doing the same way with the same materials as I was in the 1970s when I finished dental school,” Croll emphasizes.
Working With Patients and Parents
For Josh Bresler, DMD, pediatric dentistry is a family business. His father, David A. Bresler, DDS, founded Doc Bresler’s Cavity Busters in 1982, and today the younger Bresler practices with his brother and sister. Of their decision to follow in their father’s footsteps, Bresler says, “The choice was clear—that was to pursue a career dedicated to spreading smiles among young children. As we grew up, we watched him go work every day to ‘play’ instead of work.”
In addition to his practice, Bresler spends 2 days a month teaching at dental schools in Philadelphia. “The students are grateful to have private practice faculty offer different perspectives on how to manage cases,” he says. Thinking back to his own time in dental school, Bresler remembers his classmates asking why pediatrics was even a specialty, because it appeared as if there was nothing difficult about treating children. “Then our clinical days began,” Bresler says, “and one by one they came to me asking, ‘How do I treat these patients?’”
Providing care for a young patient comes with its own challenges and requires knowledge and skills unique to a pediatric dentist. According to the AAPD’s Guidelines on Behavior Guidance for the Pediatric Dental Patient, no single assessment method or tool is completely accurate in predicting a patient’s behavior, but awareness of the multiple influences on a child’s response to care can aid in treatment planning.
For Bresler, the true challenge is not rendering care to the children, but handling the parents who have concerns and fears that he must address while navigating the child through this dental experience. Ensuring that the parent is at ease during treatment is a vital aspect of the appointment, as parents inadvertently influence their child’s behavior while in the dental chair. Further, parents also have assumptions for how the appointment will proceed due to material they found on the Internet, presenting added difficulty of managing their expectations.
Also, the pediatric dentist is tasked with ensuring parents do not not feel guilt when they are shown the extent of a child’s dental disease. “Our goal is to get the child’s mouth back to a healthy status, eliminate disease and pain, and, most importantly, prevent disease from occurring,” Bresler emphasizes. By educating the parent and creating a positive experience for both the parent and child, the result is more likely a diligent home dental routine.
While dentistry is a business, both Croll and Bresler stress that if you are considering a career in pediatric dentistry, the main reason must be because you want to love your job. Offering advice for practitioners pursuing a career in pediatric dentistry, Croll draws upon some sage advice he once received: “No matter how good you are, get better next week. Keep your eyes open for advancements, for how to better yourself, and take care of families, not just teeth.”