Getting to Dental School: What’s First Year Like?

You’ve put countless hours into studying to maintain that incredible GPA. You’ve packed your CV with relatable experiences in the medical, dental, and other healthcare fields. You’re well-rounded and you were able to interview amazingly. Finally, you’re here! With the help of your friends, family, and other support, you’re finally joining the ranks of other dental students! The next bit of your life will be packed with testing your dexterity, absorbing specific details of the oral cavity, and learning about patient treatments. Having recently completed my first year of dentistry at UofT, I hope I can pass on some of my observations to illustrate how exciting the process can be – for both applicants and incoming students! 

1. Not everyone who was accepted is a 4.0 GPA, 30-across-the-board-DAT machine. Despite what the academic climate might be like, dental schools will always value diversity in their applicants. I can personally attest that I have classmates who didn’t necessarily score the best on the DAT or rank the highest in their year in terms of their GPA. However, having the opportunity to illustrate your supplemental experiences (depending on the school) and being able to explain your background (such as a graduate degree, employment, etc.) can make a tremendous difference in how admissions will perceive you. Let me repeat: not everyone who was accepted is a straight-A student. There are so many factors that can influence whether or not someone is deemed suitable for entry. After all, being a dental professional encapsulates a variety of characteristics beyond just memorizing facts and even your hand skills – you need to be able to empathize with others, translate complex ideas into lay terms, and maintain a high ethical standard as expected. Overall, the diversity of students is incredible: don’t be apprehensive about applying! I’m very fortunate to be with such an inclusive and welcoming community. 

2. The material isn’t actually that difficult – there’s just so much of it. In just the first semester, you’re bombarded with around 8 courses, some of which have lab components to them. For the most part, the concepts presented in lecture are actually not too hard to wrap your head around… until you realize that you have hundreds of slides to go through just for a midterm worth 10% of your mark. Just like any other professional healthcare program, the volume of material is usually the most daunting thing. You’ll have microbiology, dental anatomy, gross anatomy, histology, and an abundance of other courses simply tossed at you. The solution, however, is to spread the material out and tackle a bit every day. Devoting a portion of your evening after class to reviewing lecture content will make all the difference once things start piling up. Yes, you can indeed cram (I am personally guilty of that on many occasions) but it’ll only hurt in the long run! Your first year of dental school will train you to become a more efficient and scheduled individual – traits that are invaluable once you become a dentist!

3. Patience is key, especially when it comes to the manual skills. You’ll be crafting things from wax, stone, plaster, and a huge range of dental materials as you grasp the fundamentals of manual dexterity in dentistry. By the second semester, you’ll be doing drilling and practicing restorations on mock teeth! It’s very exciting stuff, but it can come with a learning curve for many students. It’s not easy to hop right into doing surgical work after spending so many years just reading and writing and bubbling in multiple choice options. You might find that some of your peers pick it up naturally, while others struggle a bit more at first. I personally suffered from a bit of apprehension – I was worried about over-drilling and damaging material if I moved too much. However, the more time I gave it and the more I told myself, ‘this is a learning opportunity; this is the time to make mistakes,’ the more comfortable I became with my hands. The key is to give the process time and to understand that not everyone is a natural at things. With support from friends, speaking with instructors for help, and using extra sessions to practice your skills, even the most complex restorations can be tackled in your first year. 

Overall, the first year of dental school isn’t without its challenges! You’ll learn to not stress about the small things and you’ll make incredible friends with your diverse classmates. At the end of the day, dental school will be an unforgettable experience that’ll pave the way for your future as a dental professional. All the best with your goals – we’re here to help!

Looking for more Dental school resources? Check out our blog on Tips for Quebec Pre-medical & Pre-dental Students

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