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.