Go to content

What to expect from life at dental school

​University life comes with its stresses. It is important for dental students to learn how to manage the pressures of longer academic terms, clinical hours, personal development modules, and hitting treatment targets.

Alishia smiles at the camera
Alishia Zafar, Instagram: @dralishia Student

During the competitive dental school application process, students can become so preoccupied with getting accepted, they often overlook preparing themselves for the demands of studying dentistry. Dentistry is a five-year degree, which requires a strong work ethic and perseverance. It is a course that will test your ability to balance your educational, extra-curricular and personal commitments.

Tips for life at dental school

Learn to reflect constructively

A substantial part of your dental student journey will be determined by the way you reflect on your clinical and professional development. After succeeding in the interview process, you may consider yourself a good communicator, but interacting effectively with patients sometimes requires additional skills. You will need to learn how to share difficult news and manage patient concerns.

Learn how to share difficult news and manage patient concerns.

Initially, I was not fond of communicating poor prognoses, especially with anxious patients, but I soon learnt that this comes with the territory. I recognised there was opportunity to improve, so I proactively shadowed experienced dentists and assimilated their dialogue into my own practice. I would credit my regular reflections and readiness to go the extra mile for my progress to date.

Clinically, you may struggle with certain treatments and may not be content with the quality of the result. So, take pictures of your work, critique it, and build an action plan on how to achieve your goal. Know that you are not expected to be perfect at everything. However, you are expected to reflect on your abilities and work on deficient areas. Progress through dental school by challenging yourself, reflecting and then learning.

Focus on your own journey

Imposter syndrome is a very common issue in dental school. With a degree this competitive to get into, you go from being one of the top academic students amongst your peers into an environment where everyone has a similar scholastic background. By comparing yourself to your peers, you may start to develop feelings of self-doubt.

This is exacerbated by the dental industry’s shift towards a greater social media presence. As more and more dental professionals begin to share experiences online, it is easy to compare yourself to a curated feed without considering the behind-the-scenes journey. Comparing yourself to others is never productive as you are on your own path. Prioritise what is important to you and remind yourself of the bigger picture.

Self-care is non-negotiable

Living a full-time student life can be exhausting. You will not always be able to balance your social life, extracurriculars and sleeping well, alongside deadlines and examinations. An imbalance can lead to burn out. There is no single universal formula to avoid this as it depends on what is important to you.

You need to learn what recharges you and ensure that you prioritise that, especially when you notice signs of becoming drained. Dentistry is a long degree; as much as you may think that you only need to focus on studying for now, you cannot afford to put other important aspects of your life on hold for 5 years. You need to live a balanced student life that centres on your happiness and wellbeing. Make the conscious decision to take care of yourself.

Remind yourself of your ‘why’

There may be times when you feel stressed and won’t be able to answer the question ‘why dentistry?’ with as much conviction anymore. That is when you need to remind yourself of the end goal and why you applied in the first place. This degree requires resilience; to persist even when you feel demotivated. Surround yourself with driven individuals, go to external conferences and learn beyond your syllabus’ necessities to keep your spark bright for studying dentistry. Find new ‘whys’ to keep you going.

Support for your dental school journey

Having access to support makes a big difference. Knowing that there is someone to rely on to receive professional advice can be extremely helpful, especially when starting out in the industry. Having access to mental health support helps you speak about the issues you are facing and work against the stigma surrounding mental health. Making the first move to seek help can be the hardest part, but through BDA membership you have access to the emotional support service Health Assured, where you can access 24/7 expert advice and guidance to anonymously discuss issues affecting your wellbeing.

Dental graduates have such a great variety of career options so trying to navigate the right path for you can be stressful. The BDA’s career advice section gives you access to guides designed to help students recognise which career choice best suits them, tips on financial planning as well as contract checking and a ‘Getting your first job’ guide. As a member you also have access to the entire library catalogue, with eBooks, books, packages of articles, revision bundles to help you with your studies, and the entire BDJ portfolio, including BDJ Student which informs and educates on developments, trends and issues affecting students' journeys to, through and post university.

Student events also provide a space to learn from experts and potentially network with people that can become mentors or recommend you for positions after graduation. Creating a supportive network of people before venturing into post-grad life can make such a difference. Membership supports you through every step of the professional journey, and student members can take advantage of the 49p per day graduate offer. If you are interested in becoming a BDA student member, join online or call on 020 7563 4550.