Advice for Third Year Dental Students Starting a Clinic

By: Dr. Sable Muntean

Starting third year clinical can be one of the most intimidating parts of dental school. Learning in a classroom is one thing, but it’s quite another to start applying what you’ve learned to real people and real situations.

4 Tips to Help Third Year Dental Students Succeed

Here are some words of advice and support to keep in mind as you move forward in your dental journey!

1. Learn First

Remember, learn first. Even though you’re working with a patient, there’s more to the clinical experience than just getting to the end result. More than anything, it’s about the process.

Understand that every patient is a learning experience.

You should be reviewing notes, asking relevant questions, and doing your best to be prepared before every clinic. Also, clinical work is where you start to really develop an intuitive understanding of dentistry.

Don’t be afraid to trust your gut! Hands-on clinical work is an amazing way to really internalize everything you’ve worked so hard to learn.

2. Understand Expectations

You also need to understand your expectations. Your patients know they’re at a school. They know it could be your first time ever doing a given procedure and they don’t expect you to be an unflappable expert!

You need to give yourself time to breathe and to think every situation through calmly. Natural teeth are much easier to prep and more forgiving than plastic teeth, so you could find yourself gliding through your procedures really well. That’s great!

But even if things don’t go perfectly, just be honest with your patients. It’s better to be direct with them about every step of the process than to pretend you’re absolutely perfect.

Just Remember: some days will be amazing and some days will be terrible, but every day is a learning experience.

3. Ask Questions

Keep in mind that faculty members are there to help. Be ready to ask about anything that confuses you and show that you’re ready to learn.

You should be prepared, of course — again, review your notes and do the legwork ahead of time to get ready for the clinical work — but never be afraid to ask for clarification.

Also, when picking faculty to work with, try to find the most critical and challenging faculty members.

While it might be more difficult, being given high expectations will never make you less prepared or worse at what you do. Rather, it pushes you to rise to a high standard and really master the procedures you’re working on.

4. Assist Fourth Year Dental Students

If your school allows you to assist fourth year dental students or if there are any specialty residency programs at your school, it may help to assist when you don’t have your own patients.

You can learn a lot from the fourth years and residents as a third year. They are still young in their dental careers, but a lot of times they have great advice and don’t mind sharing to help you prevent making any mistakes that might crop up.

Make the Most of Your Third Year in Dental School

Again, starting clinical work in your third year can be intimidating. It’s unlike anything you’ve done before and will be challenging in a whole new way — and that’s okay! Give yourself permission to mess up, because that’s the only way to learn.

Be prepared and think on your feet, but also be ready to ask questions and seek advice from the more experienced people in the room. After all, you’re a student. Just breathe.

Even when you have bad days, it’s best to make every mistake — and every success — into a lesson that will help you, one day, be the experienced person that future dentists look up to.

Up Next: Remember, You are More than just a Dental Student

Photo by Gustavo Fring

Sable Muntean

Sable Muntean

Doctor of Dental Medicine with Masters in Health Services Administration currently in an Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency. Experienced Marketing Director with a demonstrated history of working in the dental practice industry. Skilled in Nonprofit Organizations, Marketing Management, Business Planning, Coaching, and Sales. Co-Founder of ignitePreDent-- helping predental students with resources and mentorship to be admitted to dental school.