Pelham dentist helps children in and outside of clinic

Story By Lauren Dowdle

Photos by Dawn Harrison

Making children smile isn’t just Dr. Richard Baxter’s passion: It’s also his job. But he definitely doesn’t make it look like work.

His small patients at Shelby Pediatric Dentistry are welcomed by colorful rooms, toys, books, an iPad bar and friendly faces. And those are just a few of the things that set this clinic apart and help make visiting the dentist a more positive experience.

Noelle and Hannah Baxter don hats during a visit to their dad's clinic.

Noelle and Hannah Baxter don hats during a visit to their dad’s clinic.

One of the first things children and their families see when they go to the dentist office is the playground outside. Designed with safety in mind, the fenced playground area accommodates children from ages 2 to 12. They are even given pagers to know when it’s time for their appointment or when their other child finishes treatment.

“We wanted to make sure the building looked inviting from first glance and provided a way for kids to be active if they had to wait for a sibling, or if they arrived at their appointment early,” Baxter says. “Many times, parents will tell us their child sees the playground as they drive by the office and says, ‘There’s my dentist office.’”

There are plenty of fun things to do inside of the clinic, as well. They have a photo booth where children and their parents can dress up and take funny pictures, a freshwater fish tank, a toy kitchen in the lobby and balloon animals.

“We are always thinking of new ways to improve the patient experience and make it just a little more fun,” Baxter says.

While there are plenty of exciting things for their small patients to enjoy, Baxter and his team also make sure they have the best treatment available. They’ve recently added a C02 laser to help patients who have tongue-tie or need certain gum surgeries that they can perform in the office, Baxter says.

“We are able to help nursing babies who are having difficulty gaining weight or are causing painful nursing for their mother due to a tongue-tie,” he explains. They’ve seen patients from across the state, Florida and even Japan.

Helping children with their dental health is something that seems to come naturally for this father of twin 2-year-old daughters. A Dallas, Texas, native, Baxter and his wife, Tara, moved to Pelham in 2014 and opened Shelby Pediatric Dentistry.

But his passion for dentistry started years earlier as a child, mainly because he had so many dental problems himself.

“I had cavities, had a tongue-tie, needed braces three separate times and ultimately needed jaw surgery when I was 18 years old,” he explains. “With so many experiences in the dental office, one would think I would run as far away as possible from the dentist. However, I had great health-care providers in each of these areas that encouraged me and ensured I had a good experience each time in their office.”

He looks to create this same type of inviting environment at his clinic, ensuring children grow up taking care of their teeth.

“We never want a child to have a bad experience at our office, so we have bright, inviting colors, a kid’s play area, a large outdoor playground, a choice of movies for the child to watch on ceiling-mounted TVs while the child has their appointment, smaller chairs and specialized instruments just for kids,” Baxter says.

His dedication to taking care of children extends beyond the walls of the clinic. It was actually some of his earlier work — like working with terminally ill children and others with special needs — that led him to specifically pursue pediatric dentistry.

“Through all of these experiences, I enjoyed working with kids more and more, and in dental school, I realized that pediatric dentistry was where my passion and skills met,” he says. Baxter travels abroad for mission trips, as well.

He also gives back to the local community by donating toothbrushes, sponsoring children’s events, providing oral health education to foster families, giving dental supplies to local students and much more. No wonder the office’s tagline is “Dentistry with a Mission.”

Baxter was named the Healthcare Professional of the Year by the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce for 2016, and the office was also awarded the 2016 Shelby County Small Business of the Year for six to 10 employees. In 2015, his clinic was named The Arc of Shelby County’s 2015 Community Partner of the Year.

“We want to strive to have the best pediatric dental office in the state,” Baxter says. “It won’t be the largest, but we want to have the best customer service, take care of our patients at the highest level, offer the latest and best treatments and have the most fun.”

Open five days a week, Shelby Pediatric Dentistry has eight full-time employees, along with another board-certified dentist: Dr. Taylor McFarland. Shelby Pediatric Dentistry is located at 2490 Pelham Parkway in Pelham. For more information, visit