Dental School Clinic Experience; What to Expect?

February 10, 2015

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Observing a dental procedure in Kilimanjaro All throughout your four years of dental school you have classroom lectures. Classroom lectures provide you with the foundation you need to understand various procedures. But in addition to lectures, clinical experience is an essential part of dental school.

Clinical work provides dental students with hands-on practical experience performing procedures. Although clinical experience may be structured differently by schools, it tends to follow a general format.  

Clinical Experience Year One of Dental School

Year one of dental school includes a lot of classroom work. As far as clinical experience goes, you most likely will be doing pre-clinical laboratory work. Don’t plan on treating actual patients during your first year of dental school. Lab work during the first year often includes basic cavity prep work. You will also be practicing on plastic teeth performing procedures, such as drilling and filling teeth.  Some schools may also have students practice cleaning each other’s teeth.

During your first year of dental school, you will get your first taste of clinical examinations. During exams, you are required to complete a certain procedure in a set amount of time.

Clinical Experience Year Two of Dental School

Your second year of dental school still involves a lot of classroom work. You may take more classes related to areas of dentistry, such as orthodontics and periodontology. The amount of pre-clinical laboratory work will likely increase. You continue to work on plastic teeth, as well as your classmate’s teeth.

In addition to procedures you performed in your first year, you may do things, such as giving injections and performing oral cancer screenings. Some dental schools introduce second-year dental students to the clinical setting, but many wait until students are in their third year before they are allowed to work with patients.

Clinical Experience Year Three of Dental School

The third year of dental school is when the action starts. Although you still have required classroom lectures to attend, clinicals become a bigger part of your day.  During your third year, you have the opportunity to treat real patients, which is both exciting and a little intimidating.

Most dental schools operate a student dental clinic. Dental clinics have real patients who need a variety of dental procedures performed. Clinics provide the same type of procedures dentists do in their practice. Some procedures may be quite complex. As a third-year student, you are assigned patients and procedures that are on par with what you have studied up to that point.

If you are wondering why anyone would allow a student, who is still learning the ropes, to work on them, it’s a good question. Student clinics are always much cheaper than if you were to go to a dentist’s office. The same procedures performed in a student clinic cost about a third of what they would in a dentist’s office.

Although it may vary, you may get the chance to follow the same patients during your third and fourth year of dental school. For instance, a certain number of patients may be assigned to you, and you will be their “dentist” during that time. As they need checkups, treatment plans and procedures, you are the one they schedule appointments with. The clinic manager handles all the scheduling, so you don’t have to worry about that.

During your third year, you are not just left on your own. Every procedure you perform will be checked by a supervising faculty member. Complex procedures, which involve multiple steps will be checked along the way. There is still plenty of opportunities to learn and ask questions.

You have a certain number of procedures you are required to do during this time. Similar to your first two years, you also have clinical examinations where you are graded on your performance.

Clinical Experience Year Four of Dental School

Observing at Kibosho dental surgery Congratulations on making it this far. Dental school is not easy, and you have put a lot of hard work into your program to have made it to your fourth year. Although you are in the home stretch, you still have a lot of work to do. You still have some classroom lectures, but the majority of your time is spent in the student dental clinic.

You may have the opportunity to see some of the patients you treated during your third year. In addition, you will likely get new patients with more complex issues that require a fourth-year student. Keep in mind, you still have certain procedures to get checked off on, and will not be able to graduate until you perform them.

Tips for Success During Dental Clinical Experience

Dental clinical experience is a major part of dental school. There are several things you can do to increase your chances of success.

Pay attention every step of the way. You may be tempted to zone out a little during some of the pre-clinical laboratories, but don’t. It is important to pay attention right from the start. Learning the basics is essential before you can do more complex procedures. 

Get assistance. While you are working in the student clinic, do not hesitate getting assistance from a faculty member. That is what they are there for. You are dealing with real patients, and if you don’t know how to do something or are having trouble, you need help.

Develop your bedside manner. When you are learning how to perform certain procedures, it is easy to focus completely on the task at hand and ignore the patient. As a dental student, it’s advisable also to work on your people skills. Keep your patients informed about what you are doing.

Take your time. Now is not the time to rush through procedures. You need to learn to do things correctly and that may take time when are just starting your career. When patients sign-up for the student clinic, they are told procedures often take longer than they would in a dentist’s office.

Don’t beat yourself up too much. It’s unusual for a dental student to do everything right. You may make mistakes. Remember you are still learning. Becoming proficient in anything takes time and practice. Learn what you can from your mistakes and know you will improve.