Is Dentistry really for me? Filling the gaps…

“Dentistry is…a scientific art” - that’s what I wrote as the opening line in my personal statement anyway, choosing to study Dentistry is a choice that I do not regret (so far) BUT it has honestly been full of surprises.


Here are some of the Pros and Cons of Dentistry.


Pros:

1. A balanced lifestyle.

Although you can work full time, some dentists tend to opt to work only a few days a week. Generally, they do not tend to work drastically unsociable hours. Ideal if you want to have a family and/or pursue other interests alongside your career.

2. Highly respected profession.

As a healthcare professional you are a key community figure, people tend to interact with you frequently, they look to you for advice/guidance and to provide them with the highest quality of care possible.

3. Job Stability.

Oral healthcare is an essential service, the mouth is quite literally the gateway to the rest of the body, and as the population ages and people become more concerned with aesthetics, you will never be short of people who need your expertise. A friend once told me whilst I was applying “as long as people have teeth, you will have a job” (but please take this with a pinch of salt).

4. Exciting variety – no day will ever be the same.

It’s a challenging profession, you will always learn something new. Nothing is ever as it seems – never get too comfortable, there will always be something that appears out of nowhere to keep you on your toes.

Whether it’s a patient who rocks up minutes before closing time demanding a full dental clearance because they hate the look of their teeth or someone who came in for a routine ‘check-up’ but now needs emergency root canal treatment.

5. Problem solving through logical, creativity and science.

It’s your responsibility to manage a range of people and work with them to find the most appropriate solution, you have a duty of care to work in your patients’ best interest.

Often you present them with and explain an array of potential treatment options, weighing up the advantages and disadvantages/risks associated with each one (after undertaking an initial examination, carrying out any special tests and coming to a diagnosis (as a very basic outline)).

To quote myself “Dentistry is… a scientific art” e.g. using a combination dental materials and instruments you will be essentially carving details to replicate natural tooth anatomy

6. People.

This one might be a bit obvious but it’s one of the most important things to consider before you enter any healthcare profession (not just Dentistry). When it comes down to it Dentistry wouldn’t exist without people – we exist because they exist. I’m sure many of my peers would agree that Dentistry would be a lot easier if we were just treating teeth but it’s not because you are dealing with people.

People are difficult to please, it’s important to maintain professionalism at all times and work with them, listen to them, treat them with respect, take detailed notes and prepare for sessions – you will be fine.

7. Self – employment/ the option of owning your own business.

The key aim of Dental School is not to teach you how to grow a business, as a gross simplification you are taught how to be a competent Dentist, someone who practices safely and acts in the best interest of their patients working alongside the entire Dental team. However, there are countless courses available on how to go about opening a practice/business of your own should you choose to do so after graduating. In this aspect it is a very flexible career.


Cons:

1. High responsibility.

On a daily basis you undertake a variety of procedures associated with risks from administering local anaesthetic to irreversibly preparing teeth when removing caries (decay). Even giving patients advice about how to maintain their oral hygiene should not be treated lightly, we are constantly told of cases where patients can come back years later having lost some teeth complaining that they were not told by their dentist how to look after them properly and now want to complain/be reimbursed for their loss.

2. Challenging patients.

It’s all well and good saying you like a challenge but when you’re faced with an unhappy, angry or medically complex patient then it can be easy to get overwhelmed and miss the basics. Although you will have to heavily adapt your approach when it comes how you manage each of these patients, the sooner you learn that one size does NOT fit all the better. You grow the most from these patients and become more meticulous in your overall approach.

3. Unpredictability.

Yes you want variety but can you handle it? The truth is sometimes you won’t know until you’re in that position yourself, things can and do go wrong and it’s up to you to manage them in the best way possible, keep your emotions in check, act safely and logically, once again keeping the patients interest at heart. Determination is a key skill and one that you pick up very quickly.

4. Stress.

Unfortunately, this is unavoidable, at the end of the day you are providing a healthcare service for patients. Some patients will be happy no matter what you do (but please be responsible) and others will be unhappy no matter if you go above and beyond to achieve the finest quality Dentistry ever seen. Learn to take criticism but also learn to reflect on yourself this will help – learn to filter out which feedback will help you grow as a professional and try not to take negativity to heart.

5. Physical risks (e.g. needle stick injuries and back pains)

One of the main reasons for early retirement amongst dentists is due to musculoskeletal problems. Imagine you are in a profession where the majority of the time you are spent sat down crouching over a patient and working in a very small space with all manner of sharp instruments (sound familiar?).

It’s important to get into good habits early on and maintain the correct posture, you do get taught “how to sit” correctly to avoid straining yourself in the long term – admittedly this is something I struggle with a lot.

6. Litigation

A huge and ever-growing problem for the entire profession. All it takes is a quick google to find countless stories about Dentists getting sued for a number of reasons. It can be overwhelming and sometimes seem unavoidable BUT as students we are constantly told that NOTES can be your saving grace.

Detailed and honest notes documenting all discussions you have had with your patients, maintaining valid constant at all stages of treatment and acting professional at all times is the only thing you can possibly do. So that if you ever find yourself in this unfortunate position you know that you have done everything “by the books”.

7. The haters and the media.

Some people will hate you…not you personally (hopefully) BUT many people absolutely hate going to the dentist, for a variety of reasons ranging from their phobia of drills in their mouth cutting away tooth tissue (can you really blame them) to previous bad experiences OR for no reason at all… they just don’t like going to the dentist. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Quite often the media can also frame Dentists in a poor light painting horror stories, justified or not who knows, and it can be difficult to find stories about “good” Dentists.


Despite all these pros and cons (which are not an exhaustive list), Dentistry is a really fulfilling field, where you work in a team using your skills to solve problems on a daily basis in an ever evolving environment, I would still 100% recommend it.

It’s about people, practice, patience, commitment, compassion and attention to detail.

At the end of the day the decision is yours, no-one else will be able to study for you sit practical exams or see your patients on your behalf so they shouldn’t heavily dictate your decision.

Where do you see yourself in the future? What work environment? Day to day challenges & growth do you want? Do you enjoy working in a team and can you handle people?

I hope this helped to answer some of your queries and raise things for you to carefully consider before embarking on your decision.


Good luck and I wish you success in whatever profession you decide to choose.

Words by Karishma Dewitt (BDS3)

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