Pretty much every single time I am on clinics I make at least one mistake. They are often just very minor little things that are fortunately, inconsequential, yet nonetheless, they are always incredibly frustrating and I seem to dwell on them for a long time afterwards.

I find comfort knowing that this is true for all my peers and all those who have gone before me. Making mistakes is how we learn. I hate making mistakes and endeavour to never make the same mistake again, but they are often frustratingly repeated.

Every day, I must remind myself that I am still a complete beginner in dentistry. I know nothing. I am learning new skills every day, and, slowly, very slowly, very very slowly, I am becoming better. We must embrace our mistakes and look back on them, not just with the benefit of hindsight, but, also in the immediate setting to assess why they happened, then figure out how to avoid making them again.

Be critical of yourself before others make their critique. Don’t let yourself make mistakes without benefitting from them. You must try not mistakes repeat themselves, because if you do then before you know it they will become your bad habits. This, I believe, is incredibly important for us as dental students to always remember.

Perhaps one of my biggest personal weaknesses is my inability to compartmentalise. This is most apparent when I become deflated by a mistake. Whenever I make an error, do something inefficiently, especially if I have in some way done something wrong that has affected another person it is so difficult for me to go on that day without it following me around like a rain cloud overhead. Many times now, I have left the clinic and been so annoyed at myself for doing something silly (like forgetting to ask an important question when taking a medical history, or ripping the rubber dam during placement, or misaligning the cone beam before taking another grade two radiograph). I ask myself, why couldn’t I do it properly the first time?! If something in my day goes wrong, it is very typical for me to then go on and sulk for the rest of the day.

I need to work on being less attached to everything because it can have a huge negative impact on me within dentistry if it continues.

Little things affect me. I guess this is a blessing at times, but often a curse. It is a good trait for me to have, as it would be for anyone in dentistry striving for ‘perfection’ (i.e. error free, good quality work) but more often it is an anchor dragging me down as I dwell on anything that doesn’t go as I had envisioned it would.

I would be lying if I denied that a mistake has never made me question if dentistry really is right for me. Even going back to when I was just a second-year dental student, spending months in the clinical skills labs for my conservative dentistry practical teaching sessions where I would do atrocious fillings lacking any anatomy, littered with voids and swelling over margins. Why was there a massive airblow in my alginate impression? Why was there also an airblow rendering my repeat impression unuseable? Why couldn’t I take a good impression the first time?! We all have those moments, right?! But fortunately they are forgotten quicker than they sprung to mind, because I really LOVE dentistry and it definitely is right for me.

The first time I used amalgam clinically, it was to restore a huge class I occlusal cavity. I didn’t properly condense the amalgam, and I didn’t restore it with a homogenous amalgam. The patient came back two weeks later as the restoration had failed and it had to be redone, this time, it had to be larger as the failure meant he lost a little more precious tooth structure. It was my fault. That was my first ever filling and I will never forget it.

As dentists we will give thousands of local anaesthetic injections in our careers. There will inevitably be countless injections of LA that need to be topped up because the patient isn’t fully numb. There are many reasonable explanations why the anaesthesia hasn’t been achieved but it would be foolish of me (and you) not to appreciate that a significant number of those failures will be down to the operators technique. Already as a dental student I have had a few fail attempts at delivering local anaesthesia and either I have to inject another cartridge or the tutor has to step in and help me. In my opinion, these are also mistakes that can be learnt from if the right mindset of self-evaluation is adopted. I am always trying to get more confident and precise with how/where I inject my LA, especially with IDBs.

I recently completed a root canal treatment on an incisor. It was only my second RCT, and it should have been quite a straight forward tooth to treat. But in true dental student fashion I managed to make a meal of it: (1) I had to retake the working length radiograph THREE TIMES because of my collimation error, (2) I seared off the GP points too high so I left myself too little room for the coronal restoration, (3) there was a clearly visible void in my obturation. I have booked the patient back in to redo the treatment; I will remove the GP points and re-obturate. Wish me luck.

Of course, I am aware that I am dramatising a little here and you may think the examples highlighted are silly. But, I wanted to write this post to highlight some of my regular feelings as I progress through dental school. I want to be better and I hate making mistakes, yet I know that I will continue making them for many years to come.

Anyone reading this who is hoping to start at dental school will make many mistakes too – embrace them and learn from them. Make mistakes at dental school whilst you have a safety net in the experienced clinical tutors and nurses supervising/assisting you. Although our patients want/need the best from us, they will have to also accept that we will be learning our craft by treating them.

Joke about your mistakes. Try to see the humorous side, if there is one. Share the fails with your peers and listen to them tell you about their own. Often by sharing your #dentalschoolfails with your dental student pals, it means they’ll learn from you and avoid making the same blunders. Plus, it is always reassuring to me when I remember from my peers that it is not just me f*cking things up.

Surprise surprise: I made a mistake this afternoon on the clinic and that provoked me to write this post tonight. Basically, I was replacing a large failing class IV on a central incisor and there was a small void interproximally that I had to repair meaning that I ran out of time to properly finish & polish it so will do that in a few weeks’ time. Ironically, I was actually planning to replace both the maxillary central incisors today, but as I also often do, I underestimated how slow I work when it is a new treatment experience for me so could only do one tooth in 2.5 hours.

Anyway, it is getting late now and I better get some sleep before a full day on clinics tomorrow (when I will probably make some more mistakes – hopefully not though).

Please share your thoughts and personal experiences with me in the comments below! Thanks as always for reading.