Dr. Jessica Clark knew she wanted to be in pediatrics long before she chose to be a dentist. She started babysitting when she was only 12 years old and has always loved working with children. It wasn’t until she was in college that her career path made itself known to her. “A friend mentioned they were interested in becoming a dentist, and I remembered that I loved going to the dentist when I was growing up,” she says. “So I started looking into it and realized it would be a good fit for me.”
Born and raised in Virginia Beach, Clark received her Bachelor of Science degree in Human Nutrition, Food and Exercise, as well as minors in Chemistry and Business from Virginia Tech before graduating from the VCU School of Dentistry. She then completed a two-year residency at The Medical University of South Carolina where she received her specialty certification in Pediatric Dentistry. She is also a Diplomate in the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry and an active member of both the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association. But her love of the beach eventually lured her home again, and she returned to Coastal Virginia to start work at Beach Kids Dentistry in Virginia Beach.
Realizing that kids have a general sense of curiosity, she uses a technique called “Tell. Show. Do.” to help take some of the fear of the unknown out of a child’s visits to see her. “We let them know what is going to happen and what to expect,” says Clark. “Then we show them the tools and instruments before we actually start using them so they have a chance to touch them, feel them and see how they work. Most children have a really good response to us when they know what’s going on.”
Of course, some patients need a little more time than others to get comfortable. In some cases, that simply means delaying treatment until they get a little older and trying again later.
Clark recommends that parents start bringing their children in for checkups starting a 1 year of age. When those patients graduate from high school, they also graduate from Beach Kids Dentistry. “I think it’s really important that children start to see a dentist when they are younger. That’s what the pediatric specialty is for,” she says. “I just think that parents getting educated early on and getting the child in as soon as they can really helps develop a lifetime of healthy oral health care.”
Parents are always allowed to observe treatments, but Clark has learned from experience that it’s better to have the parents involved up front, to help the patient be confident and comfortable, and then let the child develop a rapport on their own. “Sometimes the parents have fears about visiting the dentist, and the children can pick up on that,” she says. “So it’s nice if the parents help prepare the children before their visit but then let us take an active role and really help them through their visits.”
As for her favorite part of the job, Clark is split on a couple of things. “I have two favorite parts,” she says. “I love seeing the babies. Seeing children for their first dental visit when they are around the age of 1 is my absolute favorite because I can work with the parents and provide them with guidance from the very start, before there are any issues. And the kids are always so fun to see because they sometimes only have one or two teeth. My second favorite is seeing those kids grow up. Kids can grow up so quickly when you only see them once every six months, so it’s amazing to see the changes and how their personalities develop. You can think back about their lives and you really get to share a lot of that with them. And for the most part, they are usually coming in for ‘well child checks,’ so they’re normally pretty happy and healthy and aren’t experiencing any problems. It’s just fun to see them grow up.”