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									                Getting into

             Dental School

Notes taken from MPW Guide - Getting into Dental School by John Handley

                Published by Trotman and Company Ltd

When considering your application for a dental school place the admissions tutor will be looking,
amongst other things, for extensive work experience in dental practice. The earlier your interest
becomes manifest the better, preferably before GCSE’s, but it comes later with some people. This
is an obvious way of discovering how you feel about the profession and putting the matter to the

Spending at least a week in close observation of a dentist in general practice is not only a minimal
dental school admission requirement; it is a chance for you to see what is involved. Some dentists
may give you the chance to assist and to avoid having you look conspicuous may let you work
wearing a white coat. You may even get the chance to work in the role of chairside assistant.
Whatever the nature of the opportunity this is your chance to see the practise of dentistry at first
hand. On a recent General Dental Council survey over two-thirds of dental students had gained
experience of this sort before gaining admission to dental school.

Learning by observation

You can learn a great deal by paying close attention to what the dentist is doing and saying during
your work experience programme:

      For example, how does the dentist deal with a new client? There could be questions and
       study of the patient’s dental history. Take note of the inevitable examination of the teeth
       and surrounding tissue. What conclusions are drawn?

      Is there a problem with the patient’s bite? What about gum disease? This is the most
       common cause of tooth loss. Plaque contains millions of bacteria, this irritates the gums
       causing bleeding. If these warning signs are ignored, teeth can become loose as the
       supporting bone structure weakens. X-rays can be taken to reveal any areas of decay not
       obviously detectable. Note that dentists are unique in that they are the only health care
       professionals who take and interpret their own radiographs.

      What sorts of technical restorative procedures is the dentist called upon to decide between?
       You will observe the administration of local anaesthetic to reduce discomfort. How does
       the dentist handle the patient’s natural anxiety? What type of restorative work do you see?
       Restorations can be fillings, inlays and crowns of the replacement of a gap by fitting a

      Are there any tricky diagnoses that face the dentist? Does a referral to a dental hospital
       have to be made? If so, why was this necessary? Orthodontics is a possible example
       concerned, as it is, with the relationship between the teeth and the jaw. Some dentists can
       specialise in correcting mildly crowded teeth, more complex cases are referred to a
       consultant at a dental hospital.

      How does the dentist deal with children or those who are obviously nervous? Is the dentist
       giving advice about diet and oral hygiene to the child’s parent? How is this being done?
       For example, children love fizzy drinks which contain sugar and are potentially harmful,
       how can the dentist get the message across of limiting food consumption containing sugar
       in the interests of maintaining a balanced diet without appearing a ‘spoil sport’? After all
       one of the reasons for having good dental health is so that you can enjoy your food.
      How well is the teamwork between dentist and dental nurse responding to the daily
       pressures? Is the working relationship truly ‘four-handed’? Are you able to see the work
       of the dental hygienist? Is it apparent to you that the dentist is the leader of the dental

      What do you think of the appearance of the dental practice? Is there a welcoming
       atmosphere in the waiting room? Is the reception area bright, cheerful and clean? Is the
       receptionist a friendly and polite person who is able to put people at their ease? Is there a
       colourful dental product display which would encourage patients to purchase? Does it look
       like a thriving business?

These and many other aspects of the work will come under your scrutiny. If there is anything you
do not understand in what you have observed, you should be prepared to ask. Dentists are very
willing to help and are generally supportive.

Your written UCAS application form will, with advantage, contain references to what you have
TOLD. Your practical experience will almost certainly be subject to questioning at your selection
interview with the admissions tutor.

The need for varied experience

Many admissions tutors will see one week observing in a general practice as a minimum
requirement. They would like to see evidence of longer-term commitment and interest and one
way of showing this is to have additional experience. This could be with other local dental
practitioners. One way to do this is to ask your local dentist to give you another contact or better
still to recommend you to someone he or she knows.

You may try volunteering to work in a dental hospital, if there is one near where you live, or if not,
the local general hospital. This can lead to assisting in a dental laboratory and seeing different
aspects of the medical world. The important point is to get experience which is patient orientated.

Some sixth formers have managed to visit a dental laboratory and seen for themselves how casts of
teeth are made from impressions. Others are able to arrange a visit to the Community Dental
Service and see how children are treated. Even a very brief piece of experience adds to the variety
in your UCAS application.

Some applicants have been known to spend some time with their local doctor. Experience of this
nature, seeing the total range of medical service is relevant because you begin to see how
important good dental health is and its relationship to the work of the GP. Experience of this
nature will often prove to be a good talking point at interview because the tutors like to see that
you have strong motivation and this kind of varied experience is a good indicator.

What is gained?

First of all you will find that dentists can be very helpful to you in explaining what they are doing.
Some of them will probably tell you about their own experience as dental students, what it was
like, what stands out in their memory. All of this will be useful and should be stored away in your
memory for later, when you go for an interview.
There is, however, a more important point. You are not doing this just to please the admissions
tutors, important though that is, you are gaining this experience to test your own interest and
motivation. This is vital, for make no mistake, you are going to need to be very disciplined and
determined to reach your goal of becoming a registered dentist with the General Dental Council.
You have to keep in focus the fact that you are taking on a five-year course which is very intensive
and requires total commitment.


I think you have to be a confident, happy, outgoing, sensible person as you will be meeting many
people over time who have to put their trust in you. Dental student.

It is a good idea to ask, ‘What makes a good dentist?’ early on in your enquiries, because if you
recognise the qualities and skills that go to make a successful dentist, you can begin to apply the
same criteria to yourself. The important point is that you do not want to set out on a course that is
very demanding in many different ways, unless you are sure that the goal at the end of all your
studies is going to be right for YOU.

If you ask dentists what are the personal skills and attitudes needed for dentistry you will get a
variety of answers. The reason for this is that it is a job which requires a combination of qualities.
Some dentists will emphasise the manual dexterity that is needed, others the scientific knowledge,
the patience required, the good communication skills or the ability to work as part of a team.
Some will mention the organisational ability and business acumen that is increasingly important.
Dentistry requires all of these things, but there is a common thread running through it all and that
is the ability to get on with people.

In general practice, where the majority of dentists begin their careers, you are dealing with the
general public and it is very important for the dentist to be a caring person who adopts a
professional attitude, taking an interest in the whole person. This is not easy to do because the
method of remuneration encourages experienced dentists to work quickly. There is, therefore, a
danger of not making enough time to see the patient for what he or she is: a person who has come
to you for help and advice. A good dentist will avoid being over-booked. It is not an easy thing to
manage but the correct balance will mean that one of the great enjoyments of dentistry, meeting
interesting people, is not lost.


Being able to get along with people and like them, although this can be hard sometimes! A
pleasing manner and a sense of humour is a great help. This is important because unless you are
happy meeting people for the first time and seeing old customers again, you will find the job
stressful and dealing with patients becomes hard work.

Manual Skill
Good manual dexterity or as one dentist put it ‘a creative pair of hands’. This is a skill which can
be acquired but remember you are going to do intricate work ‘inside the mouth’ so it is as well not
to be naturally clumsy!
An ability to explain things and reassure the patient. Do you find it easy to communicate your
thoughts and feelings to people? If you do you are likely to find dental work satisfying, if not it
will become an ordeal for all concerned.

Problem solving
Do you enjoy problem solving? The work can be unpredictable and you need to think the problem
through. This is where your scientific interest and knowledge can come to the fore. Sometimes
you could come across a problem that needs to be referred to a hospital, knowing when to do this
calls for your professional judgement. This is one reason why dentistry can prove mentally

Patience, it is said, is a virtue; this is certainly true of dentistry where some treatments are of
necessity longer-term eg periodontal disease, or where detailed work is required in making, for
example, prostheses.

A sympathetic and caring attitude, particularly to patients who are experiencing discomfort or
dental pain is very important.

Professional resilience
How mentally tough are you? Dentistry is a job where you do need to have the resilience to get on
with a job which is acknowledged by all dentists to be stressful at times. Patients who are in pain
can be frightened and aggressive people. They can be uncompromising in their attitudes and make
unreasonable demands. The treatment can cause discomfort, to say the least, and this is stressful.
It is difficult for you to know how you will react to situations like this but at least you should be
aware of what can happen. Are you someone who can keep cool under pressure?

Are you enjoying your science subjects? Have you notice how your interest in subjects can
develop as your knowledge increases. An attitude which says that you want to go on learning,
even after you qualify, is particularly valuable. This is because there is a continuing post graduate
dental education and training programme that will keep you abreast of all the latest developments.

Organising skill
Very few people entering dental school think about dentistry as a business, but it is just that. You
may start as an associate but eventually you may aspire to buying your own practice. This will
require either you to be a good organiser yourself or join up with someone who is. It has been
estimated that it currently costs £70.00 per hour to run the average surgery. So you do need to be
an effective manager in order to get a decent return on your investment.

Physically fit
Last, but not least, the work can be physically demanding. You may have to work two or three
evenings a week. At times it may be your turn to give emergency cover. You should note that
dentistry demands concentration and stamina. Are you in good health?

How have you rated yourself on the above factors? With applications for dental school increasing
sharply over the last three years, particularly from women, admissions tutors will be looking for
signs that you have some or all of the above qualities. However, it is even more important for you
to be satisfied in your own mind that you possess the above qualities. It is your life as a successful
dentist that is at stake.


Admissions tutors try to get the best students they can for their course. That’s putting it at its most
basic. They are also acting in the best interests of the dental profession. They know that the
competition is increasing, applications are on an upward trend, and that the biggest hurdle faced by
aspiring students is entry into a dental school. Once this obstacle is overcome there is, given the
undoubted ability of those able enough to get the entry grades needed, every chance that with due
diligence and lots of hard work the student will in due course enter the profession.

However, it is important to emphasise again that motivation is the key factor in selection. It is in
the last analysis more important even that A levels (or their equivalent). Therefore, the admissions
tutors are looking at the total impression conveyed by the candidate on the UCAS form. This will
include not only academic predictions and headteachers’ report but also extra-curricular interests
as well as the extremely important supporting practical experience and references. In the final
analysis the tutors know that they are exercising a big responsibility. Upon their decisions the
shape of the dental profession will largely depend.


Good dentistry requires a combination of qualities. It is crucial to understand that the admissions
tutor is looking at the total effect of the UCAS application. There are four factors which are of
overriding importance to the dental schools and they are:

ACADEMIC – is there a good spread of GCSE’s, this after all is the only factual academic
evidence on the form. The tutor is hoping to see mostly A’s and B’s, very few C’s! Is there a
prediction of good A levels (or their equivalent), in short is there evidence of good academic

KNOWING ABOUT DENTISTRY – You are about to sign up for at least a five-year course
leading to professional status. The admissions tutor will expect you to know something about your
chosen subject. Have you work shadowed a dentist or had any other relevant work experience?
Have you been to a dental hospital or even talked to your GP?

PRACTICAL ABILITY – This is one profession where you are going to need to be skilful with
your hands. The admissions tutors will look to see if there is any evidence of practical skill, it
could be of an artistic kind, a craft skill or perhaps modelling.

GOOD AT MIXING WITH PEOPLE – This may be listed last but, in the minds of dental
admissions tutors, it is certainly not least. If you want to enter a major health care profession you
are going to have to deal with people. The tutors do not want to recruit into the profession people
who will find it difficult to communicate or ‘get on with people’. They will look for strong
evidence of an outgoing people orientated personality.

The importance of the application possessing breadth
Admissions tutors in dental schools are faced with large numbers of candidates who are well
qualified academically. To separate these applications additional criteria have to be brought into
play. This is why they attach a great deal of importance to extra-curricular achievements, work
experience and the headteacher’s report.

The reason for the importance attached to extra-curricular achievements is not hard to find. It is
based upon the not unreasonable assumption that to have gained distinction in any kind of
worthwhile hobby or activity demands concentration and determination – qualities that are
essential to complete a dentistry course.

An important quality needed by dentists is manual dexterity. Is there any evidence on the UCAS
form of craft skills or hobbies such as pottery, engraving, restoring things, or creative art? Does
the applicant play a musical instrument?

To do well in creative art, making things in three-dimensional shapes is often good evidence of co-
ordination of eye and hand. These are the kinds of clues looked upon favourable by dental
admissions tutors. Many artists do well in dentistry: indeed, A level art is a specific area of
expertise respected by many dental admissions tutors. This is why some admissions tutors favour
a third A level in a non-science subject, to bring breadth into the application.


This is section 10, the last part of the form but certainly the most important and influential. Most
of the UCAS form is a factual summary of what you have achieved but here you have your first
chance to give expression, clarity and style to your application and hence bid for a place at dental

Begin by photocopying Section 10 of the form and practise writing your answer. There is no
objection to getting the personal statement typed – not only do most admissions tutors prefer it, it
may be wise to do so if your writing is hard to read! There is also the point that you can usually
get more words in the space by typing your answer but be careful, brevity can often produce a
better, more directed answer.

Research shows that it is a good idea to structure your response. Consider using paragraphed sub-
headings in order to gain clarity for the busy admissions tutor. It has the effect of giving the reader
a frame of reference, oh, yes I see what this person has done. Make sure that the following points
are covered in your personal statement:

      Why do you want to be a dental surgeon? There are many possible reasons and this is
       where your individuality will show. Mention any advice resulting from dental or medical
       contacts, careers fairs or visits to local dental practices, dental hospitals or dental technician

      Outline your practical experience. Give prominence to the diverse nature of it, the time
       spent with a dentist in general practice, maybe more than one so that you have seen a large
       as well as a smaller practice etc. Mention any interesting cases. Perhaps you have worked
       as a volunteer at your local hospital?

      Make sure that your application shows how you get on with people. How did you get on
       with the dentists, the nurses, dental hygienists, receptionists and the patients? Did you
       have the chance to help? Were there any examples of teamwork?
      Give an indication of your career direction. Even if it is tentative at this stage, show that
       you have thought about the possibilities of general practice, the community dental service,
       or the work in hospitals etc.

      Any special achievements or responsibilities. This can be connected with dentistry,
       science or with an outside interest. Practical skill using your hands in an artistic or craft
       sense will be particularly valuable for a career in dentistry.

      List activities and interests of a social, cultural or sporting kind. Here is your chance to
       reveal more about yourself as an individual.

The example of a Section 10 statement below shows in a practical way how the above advice
might look. Note the use of sub-headings and the layout making use of the space on the form and
thereby making it easier for the tutor to follow and take in at a glance the main points.


My interest in dentistry started at an early age through my visits to the dentist. I was intrigued by
the equipment, the cleanliness and the care shown to me. This interest has grown over the years.
I know that this is the career I want to pursue. During my work experience two things stood out.
First, I noted that dentists needed to have an easy manner so that patients could feel relaxed.
Secondly, dentists have to possess good manual dexterity. These are qualities that I feel I am
fortunate in possessing. The former through acting and directing in school plays, an activity I
really enjoy, and my practical ability is illustrated through pewter art which I took up about three
years ago – a skill that requires patience and technique.


2002 Attended the two-day course at the University of Liverpool Dental School. Spent one week
observing the Community Dental Service, which includes the School Dental Service and attending
to handicapped patients. Three days spent with an orthodontist seeing a more specialised aspect
of dentistry.
2003 One week with a general dental practitioner in West Wirral, observed what happens in a
small practice. Visited the dental departments of my local dental school. Visited a larger dental
practice in South Wirral with modern equipment. Spent some time with the hygienist. One day
spent at a technician’s ‘lab’ gaining ‘hands on experience’ with biting plates, dentures and gum

Qualified Red Cross first aider; regular blood donor; school prefect.
Music: Principal trumpet in school band and orchestra. Have taught trumpet to younger
members of the school band, ages ranging from 7 upwards. I’m working towards Grade 8 on the
Drama: Have played prominent parts in both school and house plays and enjoyed myself
immensely. I like the teamwork involved and coping with backstage tension.
Sport: Enjoy keeping myself fit. Reached competitive standard in karate winning individual and
team awards in my discipline for the NW regions. I also enjoy playing basketball, especially
during the winter months.

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