Three things I wish I paid more attention to in dental school

And just like that, you’ve graduated. With a degree, dental license and a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration number in hand (and an empty wallet), you’re off to practice dentistry in the real world. From time to time, you may find yourself reminiscing  about the “good ol’ days” of what dental school used to be like. While I won’t go as far to say that I “miss” dental school, there are certain aspects that I do wish I paid more attention to. Here are my top three:

Dr. Lu

Dr. Lu

  1. Materials and supplies

Supplies are simply not something you worry about in school. It’s a seemingly magical, endless supply of whatever your heart may desire. But all of a sudden, each bur, each tube of heavy body, and each endo file has an expensive price tag. You’re now working with a budget because your equipment is in need of repair, team payday is right around the corner, your patient just no-showed you, and you’re staring at an empty chair. On the flip side, you can now try whatever your heart might desire and you’ll soon come to find what works best in your hands. You’ll just have to pay for it too.

  1. Clinical notes

Oh, axiUm. What a love and hate relationship we shared. Maybe love is too strong of a word. “Tolerable.” What I did appreciate about dental school was that my work and notes were done under the safety net of another’s license. Starting from day one in practice, it’s all on you. While there are templates built into dental software, it will be up to you to modify those to your comfort level. What information will you include? Will your notes be as in-depth as they were in school? Should they be? The decision will be yours so be prepared to document and protect the license that you have worked so hard to earn.

  1. Timing

This is incredibly difficult to achieve in dental school and it completely depends on your clinical set-up. First things first, it’s not about improving your “speed” but your “efficiency.” Working with a great dental assistant will almost cut your time in half. You won’t be doing the dental school-juggling act balancing a handpiece, mirror, saliva ejector, suction and whatever else you need. As soon as you begin to feel more comfortable with procedures (experience breeds confidence), work with intention. On your paper tray, go ahead and write down the time you seat your patient, the time you’re done with the pre-op check, and when you’re done with the post-op check. Record as many times as you need. This is an exercise I do with my awesome assistant as we serve our patients. You can also work with a timer. Another useful exercise is to limit the number of times you use each bur. This focuses you to be more deliberate and complete with your routine.

Each day is a new adventure that I love as a new dentist. What do you wish you paid more attention to in dental school?

Dr. Daryn Lu is a New Dentist Now guest blogger and a general dentist in Shawnee, Oklahoma. A 2015 graduate from the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry, Daryn’s passion for his profession shows through his extensive history within organized dentistry. From an eager predental member of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) to a passionate local, district, and national volunteer leader — the depth of his experiences has helped shape him as a dental professional and lifelong learner. In his spare time, Daryn is an avid traveler, self-proclaimed foodie, and social media junkie. He lives to travel, travels to eat and shares foodie pictures on your newsfeed.


  • Dr. Lu,

    Great points. I am not a dentist but I play one on … Seriously though, I work with professional services such as yours. Hopefully your peers, as you have, will advise aspiring dentists to learn their way around an office and the business model that makes one operate successfully. Office managers and front desk salaries can be difficult to justify until the office is no longer operating “efficiently.” Saving one percent on merchant account fees is a great, immediate return. Implementing a processing system that saves time and does more than process transactions will in turn allow more production by the current staff and help patients realize their dentist is providing the best and latest technology available. Just as dentistry technology moves forward, so does business technology. Together they contribute to a better patient experience and a successful dental practice.

  • Scottye Lee, DMD

    Great article and I agree with your three points. You see, I taught young dentists-to-be for many years and tried to hammer those points home. I had many years of private practice before entering academia so I knew what they’d miss/take for granted/reject/blow off. Only one point would I add: in school, it’s important to take the time to be you. Don’t give your whole life over to teeth. When you’ve graduated, you’ll need to have ways to leave dentistry behind. Keep those hobbies/sports/whatever fresh so when you are in practice, you’ll have an out from the daily grind.

    • Those 3 points are just the tip of the iceberg, haha. I absolutely love your advice. It’s something that I try to share with as many dental students as possible. It’s all about that perspective. Thank you for sharing!

  • Twana Farley-Dunac

    Spot on! Especially chart notes. More details required than when I was in school. These same challenges exist even after being out of school 25 years! I so wish I would have payed more attention or had a class in employee management and accounting. Budgets and handeling employees and employer issues are a daily struggle. And insurance and coding – not requirements! Wish you all the best in your practice!

    • Yes! I know that certain programs can help create templates but it’s still up to you what you’d like to include and how to help others build your notes! There’s so much about dentistry that dental school barely touched upon. It’s exciting but overwhelming at the same time. Thank you so much for your kind words! I wish you the same!

  • The supplies and materials in dental school are like growing up living with your parents. You don’t know how much stuff costs and you kind of don’t care. The first time I looked in a Henry Schein catalog I about had a heart attack. I immediately remembered some of these expensive materials that I was quite liberal with in dental school.

    • Haha, that’s a great analogy. It was a conversation that I shared with an assistant that helped blow my mind how pricey things were. It’s just something you don’t think about when you re-take that impression over and over and over! Thanks for the comment!

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  • It’s good to learn more about dental school. I like how you said that it’s smart to pay attention to the supplies used and what they cost. My cousin is looking at maybe going into dental school, so I’ll tell him this.

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