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Things I wish I knew before starting dental school

04 November 2022

Dr Laura Hunter looks back along memory lane to identify some useful tips for new students.

Being accepted into dental school is a fabulous achievement and is usually the result of years of hard work and perseverance. You are ready to commit 5+ years of your life to further education and selling your soul to student loans. I remember excitement leading up to beginning dentistry so clearly – new classmates, new hands-on skills, new experiences. Nothing quite prepares you for the rollercoaster of emotions but here are a few pearls of wisdom I wish I had known. Hopefully it makes the transition into dental school that little bit easier.

Type A personalities and working in a team

Dentistry attracts an extremely high incidence of Type A personalities. What I mean by that is the cohort will be full of driven, hard-working high achievers who thrive off competition. You may even identify as that yourself and it is not necessarily a bad thing. I found surrounding myself with over-achievers held me to a higher standard and level of accountability when it came to my studies.

However, it is important not to get caught up and lose perspective. You have made it. You are in dental school. And the only person you need to compete against is yourself and strive to become the best clinician you can. There is nothing to be gained from working solo and nothing worse than thinking you are any better or worse than your peers.

Working as a team, whether it’s pooling study materials, working in groups or lending a hand in clinics above what is expected of you, is invaluable. It is humbling and makes your journey through dental school so much easier and more enjoyable.

Communication is key – patients, colleagues, professors

Following closely on from the previous point is being able to learn the art of communication, in all its forms. People are often aware they will learn the art of communicating with patients in dental school: that is a given. However, learning to communicate with colleagues and professors is also paramount to your success throughout dentistry.

Clinical settings, especially at the start, can be extremely stressful sessions and you may find that your perfect professional exterior starts to crack. You will soon figure out what kind of communicator you naturally revert to when this happens. Spending time to work on how you present yourself and work within your teams in these situations is equally as important as effectively communicating to your patient. Because at the end of the day you only spend a few hours with a patient, but you spend all day, every day, with your colleagues and professors.

Hand skills take time

One of the most appealing parts of dentistry is the hands-on nature of our work. We are master artists in all things teeth. If you are anything like me though, this does not come naturally and requires a lot of patience and a lot (and I mean a lot) of repetition. There are a blessed few who hit the genetic jackpot and carve perfect molar anatomy within the first few weeks, but they are few and far between. It is much more common to take years of simulation and clinical sessions to create something that starts to slightly resemble a tooth.

Take your time with these skills and know that you will get there, everyone progresses at different rates so do not compare. If you do find you are progressing at a slower rate than everyone else, that just means a little more vigilance is required on your part and perhaps a little extra home practice a few times a week might be all it takes to get you up to scratch. It. Takes. Time.

Everything costs. A lot

Prepare to be in more debt than you could ever imagine. Most of us will be tapping into a student loan to cover the fees and perhaps living costs throughout the degree, but what I wasn’t warned about was how much extra dentistry requires. Dental equipment is a whole new realm of expensive and you need it all. Each year you can expect to add another $8,000 on average on top of the fees, a pretty penny when you’re already living on the breadline. But when it comes to big ticket items, such as loupes, buy good quality first time and they will last you a lot longer than just the degree.

Get some friends and hobbies outside dental school

Remember the fable that when you put a bunch of medical school students in a room together all they talk about is medicine? The same applies to dental students. You will be surrounded by more teeth chat than you thought humanly possible and unfortunately if you have a significant other not in dentistry, they will begin to resent this part of you.

Dentistry can become all-consuming and while it is handy to go through cases in study and focus groups, make sure there is a time set aside for socialising without school driving the conversation. Having hobbies outside school not only enriches your life but makes you a genuinely more interesting person, especially to your patients. Balance is essential; clinical time plus study can overload even the most dedicated students.


From day dot, work on this. Good posture is worth its weight in gold, and it is arguably more important to establish good routine for your back than nailing those hand skills straight away. Using indirect vision and mirrors for the first time is tricky and it is tempting to contort yourself into unwise, unsupported positions. It is not worth it. You may be the most active and flexible person right now, but this too shall not last and it’s better to get into good habits from the start than find out how much weekly physio sessions really cost.

Soak it all up

Time seems to speed up in dental school, the years will flash past in a blur and before you know it your time is done. So, make the most of it while you can. It’ll be the most challenging and rewarding period of study and you will make some lifelong friends and memories. Get among the class events and say yes to all the opportunities thrown in your direction, and see where the journey takes you. It is one wild

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