The Kids’ Dentist

A pediatric dentist works with kids.
By Annelise Hardin
smiling woman

Annelise Hardin wanted a career that would combine her love of science and math with creativity. Pediatric dentistry allowed her to combine the subjects she likes—and help kids.

Hardin met with students at a Your Hot Job career event. Here’s what he had to say.

I did a lot of shadowing when I was in college, following around dentists, physicians, and veterinarians, to see what might be a good fit. I was impressed by the flexibility dentists had. They made their own hours, and chose what days they’re working. That went along with my long-term goals of having a family and being present for my kids. I decided to be a dentist. 

After four years of college, I went through four years of dental school. I met my husband in dental school. He is a general dentist. After dental school, he went straight into practice, and he sees everybody: kids and adults. I just wanted to see kids. So I went for an additional two years of school and residency, so that I could become a pediatric dentist. There are other specialties. Orthodontists are dentists who do braces. There are also endodontists, who deal with root canals. Periodontists work with gum tissue, and place implants. Oral surgeons are the dentists who would take out your wisdom teeth, or do jaw surgery. And once you’ve finished dental school, there are career options. Private practice, for example, is what I do. I’m the sole owner of my practice. You could also work for other dentists, or for corporate dentistry, a health department, or you can teach at a dental school.

The most important thing that pediatric dentists do is make children and parents comfortable with the uncomfortable. Often, people come into the dental office scared and worried about what’s going to happen. The dentist’s job is to talk to them about the procedure, and hopefully they feel good about the outcome. Educating people is a big part of dentistry. I might instruct patients on how to prevent cavities, what to eat and drink, and why hygiene is important to prevent tooth decay. I teach kids how to brush and floss better, and hopefully that improves their confidence. We want them to have beautiful, healthy smiles, so they can go out into the world and smile more. Lots of diagnosis and treatment goes into that. 

A lot of kids have a hard time at the dentist’s office. They have a lot of work to do. They can’t tolerate sitting in the chair. I hope to build dental patients who are not fearful.

Building Relationships 

I saw my first patient 17 years ago. She recently came into the office for a cleaning. She showed me her prom pictures. It’s wonderful to build relationships with my patients. I get to find out what these kids are interested in and see them grow up.

I started this practice by myself, with one employee and no patients. Now we have 11 employees and 3,000 patients. I’m proud of that. We’ve grown this team and created a safe place for our patients. Kids tell us jokes and share movie reviews and keep us laughing all the time. We always have good stories to tell our own families. Kids tell us the funniest things. 

When I was a young patient, I saw my pediatric dentist and orthodontist. They were both males. I’m a female dentist. There are many more female dentists now than there were when I was young, but for years to come we will be outnumbered by male dentists. But there is a lot more racial and cultural diversity in the profession, which is really amazing.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.