Dentistry for kids proves a hot career field

NYU dental student Svetlana Musheyev reads to Jada McClanahan (L) and Shakhzoda Raupova

Pediatric dentist Dr. Jed Best checking out Owen Taylor's new do

Owen and Emily Taylor dig into the toyboxes at Dr. Jed Best's pediatric dentistry practice

Kids visiting Dr. Jed Best’s dental practice are in for a checkup entirely unlike what their parents experienced in their own childhood. The waiting room is a playground, with multiple video game consoles and boxes overflowing with toys. Kids romp around under the watchful eye of staffers hired for their way with children.

Dr. Best, wearing colorful scrubs decorated with cartoon characters, is wrapping up his appointment with seven-year-old Owen Taylor. They talk about Taylor’s new mohawk, the holidays and of course, dental care, expressed in simple, kid-friendly language.

The dentist's gentle chairside manner and extremely child-friendly environment seems to please Taylor. Asked about his feelings on going to the dentist, Taylor’s answer will shock adults who have traumatic memories of their own early dental visits.

“Uh, it’s cool,” Taylor says with a giggle. “Fun.”

His mother Allison Taylor says her kids actually look forward to dental appointments. Owen and his four-year-old sister Emily indeed seem to be having a blast digging into the office’s overflowing toyboxes. Dr. Best says some kids actually get upset when they have to leave, stunning parents who have their own anxieties about the dental chair.

This, of course, is no ordinary dental practice. Dr. Best is a pediatric dentist. American Dental Association research shows this is the fastest growing dental specialty by far. More and more dentists are choosing to build their practices around children to meet growing parental demand and be part of a field that can be enjoyable and lucrative.

Dr. Best says a pediatric dentistry practice has its challenges, but compared to general dentistry, it’s relatively protected against economic downturns. Parents facing financial difficulties may think twice about paying out of pocket for their own teeth. But few hesitate to give their kids the best care possible.

“If the parents have to allocate their healthcare dollars, they’re gonna go to their child first before it goes to themselves,” Dr. Best says.

Growing parental awareness is increasing demand for child dentists. NYU’s College of Dentistry is part of the supply. In a waiting room full of parents and young patients, dental students learn to keep kids comfortable by playing games and reading with them.

Joi McClanahan takes both of her children there. She marvels at how different their experience is from her childhood dental visits.

“A regular dentist couldn’t get me to open my mouth or do half of the things that they can actually convince the children to do,” she says.

There’s strong interest in the specialty because high salary potential means a faster path to paying off educational debt. Recent American Dental Association numbers show pediatric dentists make an average of $100,000 a year more through their practices than general dentists do. The field also offers the promise of more time spent taking care of patients and less hassle with insurance companies.

“Most of the procedures we do don’t entail a lot of complicated prior approval, sending in x-rays and extra documentation,” explains Dr. Amr Moursi, chair of NYU’s pediatric dentistry department.

He says applications to the program have jumped around 20% in the last four years. Drs. Moursi and Best are both spokesmen for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, a group that has seen its membership rolls swell nearly 75% in the last decade. Given the earning potential and growing number of parents seeking this kind of care for their kids, those numbers will grow larger still.

Mark Garrison: New York dentist Dr. Jed Best is wrapping up with Owen Taylor. The 7-year-old’s attitude toward going to the dentist might surprise you.

Owen Taylor: Uh, it’s cool (laughs) um, fun.

Yes, fun. It starts in the waiting room, which has two video game consoles and lots of toys for kids to romp around with. Owen’s mother Allison has two children in Dr. Best’s care.

Allison Taylor: My kids love coming here.

That’s because everything is kid-friendly, including Dr. Best’s gentle chairside manner, and his colorful scrubs, decorated with cartoon characters.

Dr. Jed Best: We’re trained to make things that are stressful not necessarily stress-free, but at least less stressful. And children feel comfortable in that environment.

He says unlike some general dental practices, his thrives even through tough economic times. Parents may think twice about paying out of pocket for their own teeth. But few hesitate to give their kids the best.

Growing parental awareness is increasing demand for child dentists. NYU’s College of Dentistry is part of the supply. The waiting room is full of parents and young patients. Dental students learn to keep kids comfortable by playing games and reading “Snuggle Puppy” with them.

Dr. Amr Moursi chairs the pediatric dentistry department. The field is attractive because it can be fun and lucrative. There’s also less hassle with insurance companies.

Dr. Amr Moursi: Most of the procedures we do don’t entail a lot of complicated prior approval, sending in x-rays and extra documentation.

Joi McClanahan has two daughters age six and one, the youngest on her lap.

Joi McClanahan: A regular dentist couldn’t get me to open my mouth or do half of the things that they can actually convince the children to do.

Parental support like that is why dentistry for growing kids is such a growing business. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.

Pediatric dentist Dr. Jed Best checking out Owen Taylor's new do

Owen and Emily Taylor dig into the toyboxes at Dr. Jed Best's pediatric dentistry practice

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