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Why Am I Learning This? - Your Training in Dental School

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Why Am I Learning This? - Your Training in Dental School

Thomas Bradshaw is currently a second year BDS Dental Student at The University of Manchester. He finds self-motivation a key player in getting through your training in Dental school. Yet he understands far too well, that it is a lot harder when you don't understand the real reason behind the certain topics that you invest time into studying.


Here I set out to answer, from experience, one of the most frequently asked questions by Dental students at Dental school: "Why are we even learning this?" There is an underlying reason why you are taught the things you are at Dental school, and once you appreciate that, it makes mustering up the motivation to get the work done much easier!

As a Dental fresher it isn't uncommon for you to feel like a sheep, plodding along to lectures, not questioning anything you're told. However, once you look at the bigger picture you may begin to wonder. I mean, why are you even learning about how a liver condition can hurt your right shoulder, but it all relates to Dentistry. No seriously, it does.

What is a Dentist?

This depends on who you ask, but as a Dental student, how would you describe your future self? Aside from being smart, charming and incredibly good looking; what is your job as a Dentist? Personally, I consider a Dentist as a specialist Doctor - 'of the mouth', associated structures, with education in related conditions, structures/organs and treatments, to put it lightly!

Since I have come to terms with this, it breaks my heart when a friend, relative, or stranger asks, 'Why are you learning that? You're only a Dentist; shouldn't you be looking at, you know, teeth?' I forget that only a few months ago, I had the same thoughts going through my head. In response, I hope this article can shed a little light, and educate the public and prospective students, on what to expect from their Dentist and a career in Dentistry.

What have I questioned the most?

There are always things popping up in my studies which spark up the whole, "Why?!" frustration; it's usually a difficult or long winded topic that you'd much rather let your friend do whilst you peacefully watch the back of your eyelids. For me, this came around with various histological studies, gastrointestinal anatomy and physiology, and some neuroanatomy. Again, uncovering that underlying 'reason' as to why I am learning it, helps motivate me to push through the hours of note taking, reading, and revision. More importantly, it helps me to enjoy learning it!

The 'Reason' and when it all clicked

I have been referring to a 'reason' for the most part of this article, making it appear as though it came to me through some sort of dreamy, out-of-body experience. Quite the opposite in-fact, although in no less of a surreal situation!

At some stage throughout your training at Dental school, you begin interacting with patients and for; albeit a short-lasting and surreal moment, you really do feel like a Dentist. I am certain you will leave your first session with a different perspective on your learning. For my year group, general concerns consisted mostly of: 'What if this happens? What if that is there? What if my patient complains of this?' When your first patient is sat in your chair, all your knowledge will be flashing through the back of your mind as though you were an oddly shaped, living, breathing textbook. As soon as you uncover something familiar, whether upon patient examination, during the social history, medical/medication history, or even when they shake your hand, it will click. A relieving - 'Ah, that's why I learnt that.' - will bounce around your cranium.

There are numerous situations where you hope your acquired knowledge will never come into play. It is reassuring however to be confident that you have learnt it, and the knowledge is there if ever it is needed. In a hypothetical situation, a patient is suffering from a lack of sensation and has trouble speaking, the medical history also lists them as a stroke victim. Your time spent studying neuroanatomy and physiology allows you to have an in-depth knowledge of what has taken place. Allowing you to assess how you can help, and how to proceed from that point on with questioning, treatment planning, and precautionary action.

Something to bear in mind as a current Dental Student

There is no doubt you did, or are currently working incredibly hard to get into Dental school. There are thousands of applicants each year who are unfortunately unsuccessful at some stage in their application. Some will have to move on and take a different path; others will be trying again, and may or may not be unsuccessful, again.

The point is, numerous students would give their left foot for a place to be in your seat in that lecture, holding that pro-section in anatomy, or using that drill in clinical skills. As challenging as Dental school may be, or as little sense you can see in learning certain things; it is important that you embrace it and appreciate your position. Both for those who couldn't get to where you are, and for the sake of your patients. You have a unique and vast opportunity to gain specialist in-depth knowledge of: Human anatomy, physiology, histology, psychology, sociology, epidemiology, pharmacy, pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics... The list goes on.

Thomas bradshaw xray

A final word

My time so far training as a Dental student has opened my eyes and expanded my understanding of what it really is to be a Dentist. I hope this article can help inspire prospective students to pursue a career in dentistry, encourage existing Dental students to really engage and appreciate their opportunities; and finally, inform the public that their dentist can be there for you for much more than just your teeth... Don't be afraid to ask!

Thomas Bradshaw


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