What I Wish I Knew Before Starting Dental School

By: Savanah Craig

Before “Day in the Life” Instagram posts, there wasn’t a lot of information about what being in Dental School was like.

I had spent many hours shadowing dentists for my application, but none of them ever talked about their four years of school.

I felt confident that I could become a great dentist and I understood that lifestyle, but dental school came as a shock to me.

What Is Dental School Like?

Dental school is different than medical school because it combines didactic learning and hands-on clinical skills almost immediately.

In medical school, they typically spend four years taking didactic classes and exams, with any hands-on surgical training coming in their residency years.

At my dental school, we were picking up handpieces the first week of school.

Sitting through lectures and taking tests didn’t feel that intimidating, since I had just spent four years in college doing the very same thing.

What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how to balance studying for those classes while learning how to perfect my hand-eye coordination to drill a plastic tooth in 1 mm increments.

Balancing the Demands of Dental School

There are many things you need to be juggling at the same time.

Didactic Coursework and Examinations

First, you have your didactic coursework and examinations. Since the first two years of the curriculum were front-loaded with most of the didactic classes, there was an incredible amount of information to learn and digest each week.

Preclinical Lab Courses

Then, you also have your preclinical lab courses where you’re learning to drill, fill, take impressions, etc. Our D2 year included 25 credit hours with some of our 4-hour labs only being worth 1 credit. This combination of skills makes prioritization incredibly important.

Prioritizing Your Studying & Practicing

For example, if this week you have a biochemistry exam on Tuesday and a crown practical on Thursday, you need to decide which nights you’ll be spending at your desk studying lecture notes and which evenings you’ll be in the lab practicing your crown preparations.

You may not succeed at everything, but you must learn which of the tasks you’re juggling you can let drop and which you need to keep in the air.

The last two years of dental school are less heavy with the didactic course but still present their own challenges. In my experience, when we started clinic our D3 year we only had 11 credit hours of coursework and no lab classes because we were entering clinic.

I thought this would be a relief. However, this meant I now had to balance being a full-time student and a full-time dentist.

We had class in the morning before clinic started and then saw patients from 8:30-4:30.

Time Management is Key

After clinic, I had to manage lab work for my patient cases and study for my classes. At this point, time management became the key to my success.

It takes 45 min for casts to fully dry, so I would often bring my lecture notes to the lab with me and make study guides during downtime. It can be difficult at first, but once you get a rhythm going you can manage both your academic and clinical responsibilities well. 

I don’t know that you can truly be prepared for the demands of dental school but going into it with an open mind is helpful. It is going to be a unique experience that few people in your life (aside from your classmates) will fully understand.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to upperclassmen and alumni for advice and know that you’ll make it through it, even on those extremely difficult days!

Up Next: You’re More Than Just a Dental Student

Photo by Pixabay

Savanah Craig

Savanah Craig

Savanah Craig is a graduate of Baldwin Wallace University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology. She is currently a 2022 D.D.S. Candidate at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. She will be pursuing a General Practice Residency in Columbia, SC following graduation. In her free time, Savanah enjoys reading, exploring new restaurants, and traveling.