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Tips from a Recent Dental School Graduate

By Dr. Natalie P

As with any career, if you are interested in dentistry, it is most likely a good idea to shadow or observe what the profession entails before you apply.  Below are several ways that you can gain experience in the dental field as well as questions that you may want to ask during your experience.

Volunteer at a dental office

If you have a dentist that you have been seeing for several years, one of the easiest ways to get an idea of what goes on in a dental practice is to ask them if it is ok to shadow them for a few days. There is value in shadowing a dentist to inquire about both the business aspect of dentistry as well as the procedural aspect. How many people comprise the business, are there associates, how many hygienists, assistants, front desk staff make up the team? What are the various procedures that are conducted on a daily basis and what procedures do they refer to specialists? Is there a good collaboration with the lab for esthetic cases and what lab work is done by the dentist or assistant? Depending on the state, what are the job duties of the assistants?

Depending on the state and the rapport that you have with the person you are shadowing, they may allow you to assist on several procedures which would further allow you to get an idea of what is entailed in the field of dentistry.

Attend a dental mission

In the state of Virginia, there is a MOM Project- short for Mission of Mercy- each year to help those in underserved areas with their dental needs. It spans one weekend but thousands of dentists volunteer their time to do extractions, fillings, even dentures for those individuals that sign up for the project. I believe that each state probably has a similar type of mission but such missions are always looking for volunteers to help out during that time.  Several dental students or residents sign up for these projects to gain extra dental experience and it is a rewarding as most of these individuals would go untreated otherwise. A great way to get experience is to find opportunities like this MOM Project near you and ask to get involved. One way to find such opportunities is to search for them on Google or to reach out to local dental associations and ask.

Check with a dental school

If you reside within close proximity to a dental school, volunteering or observing at the dental school is great experience. Most dental schools have all the dental specialties so you may decide that you do not want to just go into general dentistry but rather orthodontics, oral surgery, or pedodontics. It is a good way to ask current dental students what life is like as a dental school and establish relationships with faculty before you even start dental school.

Underserved missions internationally or domestically

As a dental student there was always opportunity to travel internationally to help out the underserved. It would require about a week and going to places such as South America or Asia to help those in underserved areas who do not have access to dental care. It is extremely rewarding to see how you are able to help out in a village in a matter of days and witness the impact of dental care that you have provided. 

It can be difficult in times of COVID-19 to get access to dental experiences given the social distancing and personnel limitations. However, most dental offices are now back to normal capacity with wearing appropriate PPE and sanitizing procedures. Most underserved area projects may have slightly different restrictions and planning guidelines but are starting to get underway again. I believe that moving forward with herd immunity there will be once again be greater opportunities in the future. It is never too early to start looking and forming relationships to get a better idea of what dentistry entails and making sure that this a career that you would like to pursue.