skip to main content

How To Become A Pediatric Dentist

Pediatric dentistry is an extremely lucrative career, with the average salary being roughly $242,000 a year as of 2021. It also means helping young children develop good habits early on that can keep their mouths healthier for longer, which is a fulfilling mission. But how do you become a pediatric dentist?

You will need to complete dental school, a residency, and become board certified. You may also choose to gather additional certifications to bolster other skills regularly used when treating children

Here’s what you need to know about becoming a pediatric dentist.

Schooling for Pediatric Dentistry

Becoming a pediatric dentist starts the same way as becoming a general dentist: undergraduate school, dental school, licensing, and residency. Where becoming a pediatric dentist differs from being a general dentist is the dental residency. This is where individuals who want to work as pediatric dentists will specialize in children’s dental care.

1. Undergraduate

An undergraduate degree is needed to enter dental school, so we suggest reviewing the general requirements for applying to the dental school of your choice. While there is not a specific dental undergraduate program, studying subjects in the biology sciences is a safe bet. 

2. Dental School

Once in Dental school, students must obtain either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM) at the end of their four-year program. Either degree is acceptable for specializing in Pediatric Dentistry. 

Certifications for Pediatric Dentistry

3. State Licensing

Once you have graduated from dental school, you’ll then need to apply for your state licensing. This is required to legally practice dentistry. For dental graduates to officially become licensed, they have to pass the National Board Dental Examinations. The exam is usually composed of two parts: the qualifying exam and the clinical exam.

3. Residency

This is the part of the education tract that will allow you to specialize in pediatric dentistry and therefore become a Pediatric Dentist. Your residency will give you the skills and work experience needed to become a Diplomate of Pediatric Dentistry, so you will need to choose from over 70 pediatric dentistry residency options in the U.S. Once your residency is complete, you will take your board certification exam which will show patients and employers that you have gone above and beyond in dental education.

4. Board Certification

Your board certification comes from either the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CDA) or the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry (ABPD). Applications are accepted from July until the end of the year and cost $700.

The exam is usually composed of two parts: the qualifying exam, made up of multiple-choice questions, and the oral clinical examination, which is itself two one-hour sessions of board review during which a candidate must discuss various clinical situations and their appropriate treatment.

This certification needs to be renewed on an annual basis. Part of the contingency for remaining certified is a willingness to stay updated and adopt the latest best practices in pediatric dentistry, which is the main reason for such frequent renewal.

Other Skills You Need as a Pediatric Dentist

Though not absolutely necessary, many pediatric dentists will get additional certifications in skills not covered by their initial degree program and board certification. These skills may include sedation, oral surgery, and the administration of certain drugs, depending on the state you plan to practice in.

Clear and effective communication is also a must. As a pediatric dentist, you will need to be able to explain procedures to children in a way that makes them significantly less scary. You’ll also need to show their parents exactly what you’re doing to treat their child and how they can help.

It also helps to have constant interaction with children. According to Adam Shisler, DDS of Cammarata Pediatric Dentistry Group, volunteering for the Boys and Girls Club or a similar program can help new pediatric dentists develop a repertoire with and understanding of younger children and how they view the world.


A review of the Pediatric Dentistry tract is below:

1. Undergraduate Study

Plan on majoring in something in the biological science field or a designated pre-dental tract that is offered at some schools, like this list of pre-dental classes from the University of Michigan.

2. Dental School

You will receive general dental training which will be necessary to pass your licensing exam.

3. State Licensing

4. Residency

This is where the Pediatric Dental tract differs from studying General Dentistry. In your Residency, you will choose to complete a Pediatric Dentistry residency from one of the many available in the U.S. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) provides a comprehensive list of the Pediatric Residency programs in the U.S.

5. Board Certification