The job of a pediatrician is a complex one. It requires knowledge about a wide variety of aspects to a child’s development, and the ability to make recommendations based on what one sees in relatively short appointments.

Luckily pediatricians tend to see patients frequently early on, more so than a pediatric dentist for instance.

But how knowledgeable is the average pediatrician about dentistry?

A 2021 study aimed to answer that very question by testing over 300 pediatricians of different levels of experience.

One of the chief hypotheses going into the study was that aspects of child dentistry aren’t thoroughly covered in a pediatrician’s education, but perhaps are built upon by practical experience during the pediatrician’s career.

That premise did seem to bear out through the course of the study.

Some of the pediatricians involved in the study were still in their residency program, while others had over 10 years of career experience after completing such programs.

Overall, 53% of the pediatricians studied reported feeling confident in their level of knowledge about pediatric dentistry — enough that they felt good about the recommendations they could make for patients.

Those with 5-10 years of experience were 2.72 times more likely to feel that level of confidence. Pediatricians with over 10 years of experience were 1.98 times as likely to feel confident about that knowledge.

Taken as a whole, it does support the hypothesis that knowledge about children’s dentistry increases significantly with practical experience in the field versus what is initially taught.

Also interesting is the fact that the pediatricians seemed more confident about their knowledge of dentistry at the 5-10 year mark, but beyond that were slightly less confident. The likely explanation is the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is essentially where the less you know about something the more likely you are to overestimate your knowledge of it. Conversely, the more you know about a topic the more aware you are of yet how much more there is to know, and therefore the less you feel you know about the topic.

Key Takeaways

There are two aspects of the study’s results that stand out. First, the fact that only 53% of the pediatricians overall reported feeling confident about their level of knowledge of children’s dentistry could be concerning to some.

It implies then that 47% of the pediatricians were not confident in their level of knowledge, which may be a signal that we need to make changes to the training pediatricians receive. Particularly because babies will see a pediatrician right after being born, but likely won’t see a pediatric dentist until their first tooth. Sometimes later.

However, the fact that the pediatricians became so much more comfortable about their level of knowledge after 5 years of practicing is promising. It speaks to a strive for knowledge that is typical, and generally that by the time many children will see those pediatricians they will have become more comfortable to make recommendations about dental health outside of a pediatric dental appointment.