January 30, 2021

So you want to be a Pediatric Dentist?

Dr. Jennifer Villata, D.D.S., M.P.H., shares some advice for how to know if pediatric dentistry is right for you and how to survive dental school with flying colors.

Cate Perino

Dr. Jennifer Villalta was the perfect dentist for us to speak with to share some advice for dental students and prospective pediatric dentists. Her passion for her career and helping others was clear, even through our virtual Zoom meeting. Thinking about being a pediatric dentist? Take her 5 question quiz to see if it’s right for you. Looking for dental school advice? She shares her best piece of advice for each year. 

Meet Dr. Jennifer Villalta. 

Dr. Jen Villalta is currently working as an associate Pediatric Dentist and lives in Los Angeles. She completed her residency and received her Undergraduate Degree in Physiological Sciences and Masters in Public Health at UCLA. Let’s hope that triple bruin status doesn’t scare away any of the USC dental students reading along. 

Dr. Villalta’s dentistry journey began when she was 16 and went to an orthopedic consultation with her mother. After helping translate the appointment to her mother, the office called and asked if she wanted a job to help out in the office. She originally wasn’t excited about the offer because she didn’t want to leave her awesome job at Krispy Kreme. 

She eventually did take the offer. This job encouraged her to get her dental assisting license by the age of 17, and learn all about the world of dentistry along the way. Fast forward to 2020, and Dr. Villalta has now been practicing dentistry for over 17 years. I’m sure Krispy Kreme was great, but I think she made the right choice. 

How did she do it?

You may be at that Krispy Kreme phase yourself, or maybe you’re a dental student wondering how to specialize in pediatrics. Either way you may be asking: how did she do it?

When we asked Dr. Villalta for advice about her career journey, she said that you must have a clear plan and goals. You need a map for how you are going to get where you want. And don’t just think about it in your head. Just like 2007, when we used to print out MapQuest directions before a road trip, plan out each step ahead of time and put it on paper. 

She also recommends that you find an inner motivation and passion for your career and education. There will be times when you are away from people who motivate you like your family and friends, and you need to be able to motivate yourself to keep going. She shared that activities like journaling, yoga, running, and meditating helped her refocus when she needed an extra push. 

Dr. Villalta's career journey is far from over though, and her goals now include being a business owner and philanthropist in the future. She is interested in mentoring and guiding others, especially children in inner city schools and people from minority backgrounds. 

Can I do it?

Are you wondering if pediatric dentistry is the right career path for you? Dr. Villalta put together a 5 question quiz to test if pediatrics is the right specialty for you. Don’t let this pop quiz scare you, you already know the answers. 

1. Am I scared of children? 

It’s a good start. We need to weed out those who may have stumbled across this quiz by accident. Also, they can sense fear. 

2. Do I get more excited to see an adult or child in my appointment schedule?

Think back to the experiences you’ve had or take note of the next time you treat patients to see what comes most natural to you. 

3. Do I like educating patients about their oral health?

Pediatric dentistry involves teaching children and their parents about oral health and good habits. Explaining to a 5 year old how to floss is a skill that some have and others do not. 

4. Am I cool under pressure?

Children are unpredictable and sometimes they don’t want to let you poke at their gums. Be prepared for things to not go how you planned. 

5. Do I have good hand skills on a moving target?

That one is self explanatory. Kids are squirmy. 

Here’s how to do it.

Did you pass the quiz? Great. 

If you didn’t, that’s ok, I heard Periodontics is fun too. 

Dr. Villalta told us that pediatric dentistry is an incredibly rewarding profession. Due to their young age, you can really make a difference in your patients’ oral health. They aren’t set in their ways yet and you can be a great positive influence in their life and empower them to take care of themselves. Also, they still get visits from the tooth fairy, so sometimes they’re just as excited about teeth as you are. 

Truth is, dental school isn’t all smiles and fairies though. Here are tips for how to survive each year of dental school. 

Year 1: Prioritize your academics and problem areas. 

Focus on doing as well as you can in your classes and evaluate the areas you need to spend more time on. Are you doing better in science or clinical classes? Figure out what you’re good at and what you need to work on improving. 

Year 2: Explore specialties, get to know faculty, and prepare to ask for a letter of recommendation.  

Start exploring specialties that you’re interested in and volunteer with local dentists to understand those career paths better. Invest in getting to know your faculty and learn as much as you can from them. 

Year 3/4: Focus on submitting your residency application and completing your graduation requirements. 

Prepare packets with a cover letter, clear directions, your personal statement, and any helpful information about you to give to faculty that are writing your letters of recommendation. And give them plenty of time to do so. Especially because you may be traveling for interviews and missing class, make sure that you plan ahead with credits and assignments. 

Want more dental school tips? Dr. Villata has recently started sharing advice for dental students on her Instagram (@thebabyteethdentist) and YouTube. Check out this video where she talks through the journey to becoming a pediatric dentist. 

Watch it Jennifer's Video on YouTube

Some tips for the road.

Once you survive dental school and have chosen your specialty, you’re off into the real world. Dr. Villalta has some advice for the road. She says that even though you may be done with school, you will always be learning. From doing your own research to speaking with peers, you will learn something new every day. Dr. Villalta also shared her mantra: closed mouths don’t get fed. If you don’t ask for it, you’ll never get it. Verbalize what you want and need because you’ll never know what doors will open. Who knows, you could be working at Krispy Kreme one day and get a job offer at your dentist the next! 

Check out Dr. Villata’s Instagram (@thebabyteethdentist) and YouTube channel for more advice on dental school, residency, and pediatrics!

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