Life is full of lessons.

In dentistry, we are all constantly learning, especially during our years as an undergraduate student. This is a career of LIFELONG LEARNING.

It is so important that we fully embrace our trainee position and make the most of our journey. It may be five years in duration (sometimes a little shorter, or longer depending on your particular path), but trust me that the time goes by so quick, and, before you know it, you’re a qualified junior dentist out in the world expected to be a competent and safe practitioner (without as many people to ask for help from as easily/directly).

You will probably look back and have regrets for not ever asking more questions and seeking more guidance/advice.  

Despite us dental students all completing the course with the same qualification that permits us to work as dentists, our levels of experience and knowledge will vary hugely. Your unique experiences from dental school will largely depend on how you choose to approach university life.

Dental school is not cheap, with the massive tuition fees and high cost of living in the UK, surviving on loans and living in the overdraft is not nice. So when you consider how much money it costs you to train, you might as well make the most of it and learn a lot whilst you’re in a nurturing environment.  

Ask for help; from your peers, your tutors, your family and friends, your clinical partner, the lab technicians and dental nurses. Don’t feel burdened with having to get by alone – there are so many people surrounding you who can help. In fact, most of them are specifically there to help!

Ask for advice. It can at times all become a little overwhelming, with the constant deadlines, the countless lectures, the jargon-packed textbooks and journal articles, and many different dental specialities/career pathways to choose between.

Take in as much as you can. Every day you are in dental school there are many lessons to be learnt, you just need to seek them out! Now, I don’t mean you should become an annoying person who asks a million questions but you have to be inquisitive. 

Ask, and you shall receive. 

Seek, and you shall find.

Knock, and it shall be opened. 

As you start to become more open and allow others to come into your dental school life to help you, you will find yourself feeling more comfortable, confident and happy. Mentors will present themselves to you if you seek them out, asking for help is what is needed. 

If it is your first time doing something (and there are countless ‘first-times’ as a dental student) let your teachers and peers know! By letting your support team know that you are about to do something for the first time, they will be actively aware to be present to help you. You shouldn’t have to be confused or lost. 

If a tutor comes over to fix something you’re doing wrong, go up to them afterwards and ask what you can do differently next time to be better. Ask them what techniques they use in general practice.

You may well have heard of that common saying: “no question is a silly question”, or something paraphrased along those lines. I am not sure if I completely agree with that, but there is some encouraging truth within it! Don’t be afraid to ask. Before verbalising/textualising your questions, think them through. Try to come up with an answer, or at least try to reason through your own query to make some attempt to rationalise and answer it. When asking for help, it is also often best not to rely too much on the person asked to give you the full answer without any of your own input. By this, I mean to say that the person you ask will appreciate if you make it clear to them somehow that you have at least attempted to seek out the answer in some other way first (e.g. reading a text book, attending the lecture on that topic etc), or that you make it clear you are asking for the genuine reasons of wanting to learn something.

In dentistry, much of what we do is irreversible, invasive or difficult to undo. Therefore, as trainees, we need to feel confident before proceeding with anything that we have the basic skill set and understanding of what needs to be done. So, if you are in a situation whereby you do not feel entirely confident with what you should do, ask! Don’t try to ‘wing it’. By ‘having a go’ it is potentially dangerous (for the patient most importantly) but will also have potentially negative influences on your dental development by setting a precedent whereby you enter into the bad habit of cutting corners etc.

Embrace your dorky side! Ask questions and you will actually enjoy dental school more. Ultimately, I believe that those students who are inquisitive and actually make constant efforts to learn from every experience; taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge possessed by those more seasoned teachers looking after you will fare very well and become superb junior dentists.

A very important quality that any good teacher ought to have is that they make their students feel comfortable approaching them with any questions. The teacher should always be happy to help and by doing so, will boost their students’ confidence – inspiring them to develop and enjoy the learning experiences.

It’s so important to ask. This applies in all settings, always, not just during dental school!

Here are just a few of the recent instances where I asked for help from others:

  • A patient came in to see me, and at the appointment, I was going to be cementing my first full metal crown. So, I went up to the tutor before I called the patient in, and asked her for some guidance on the best cement to use, how to prepare and what procedural steps to follow in order to ensure the appointment went smoothly. I already sort of knew exactly what I needed to do, and what cement to use, but by asking my tutor (who was specifically there to help me), I was able to feel super comfortable and confident in myself and that confidence would translate into a happy and trusting patient. The appointment went very well, the crown cementation was simple and straightforward but I came away from that first experience feeling very happy and actually learnt a lot. I even went up to the tutor at the end and asked some more questions related to crown cementation, in general, to further increase my knowledge on this common dental procedure.
  • When it comes to working on cases with dentures, some of my close friends and peers have more experience than myself. So, I felt it would be good for me to go and ask my colleagues how their denture cases were going, asking them questions about what they did and why they did it that way etc. By engaging with them and asking for their advice – I was able to gain some valuable insights into the multi-stage denture process so that as I take on more denture cases myself, I can put into practice the tips I have gained from my pals.
  • After taking primary alginate impressions for one of my patients recently, I had to take them to the dental laboratory to cast up the study models. But, it had been quite a while since we were taught to cast and I hadn’t spent much time in the labs due to not having any patients for a period who needed me to do any lab work doing. I hadn’t forgotten the steps to articulating a set of gypsum models, but I wanted to refresh my memory so I went to one of my clinical group peers who I knew had been spending quite a few sessions in the labs himself and he was more than happy to remind me of the process so that I actually felt very confident getting back into the labs and cracking on with my own labwork. This is a very simple example, but I honestly believe it perfectly exemplifies my point for this blog post! Asking, even silly little questions are so helpful.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts related to this post, and please always feel free to ask me any questions 🙂