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A journey to dental school

After graduating in the fall of 2017 from San Francisco State university, I embarked on a one-year long internship as a dental assistant. The office I worked at had a long history of taking pre-dental students a year or so before they headed off to dental schools. It worked as follows: about three months before the current dental assistant departed a new recruit would come in. The newbie would go on to be trained by the current dental assistant until they departed off to dental school.

Those first three months were taxing to say the least, as a dental assistant you have to know the ins and outs of every procedure. To put it into perspective there are around ten or so procedures that a typical dentist carries out in their practice; from filling out a broken tooth to extracting it all together. Every procedure uses a specific set of tools, with each carrying out a specific function; Furthermore, as an assistant you have to be one step ahead of the dentist, as you need to have the correct instrument at the ready as the procedure runs along.

Daunting as it seems, there are a few things you can do to make things easier on yourself. The first thing I’d suggest is to make short video recordings of all instruments needed for each specific procedure, always keeping in mind the order in which they are used. This will be useful as you can go back to the videos at any time after work to review things, seeing as you will be too busy watching over the actual procedures during work. Secondly, ask permission to stay after work or come in when the clinic is closed so you can do mock runs for each procedure. Having the clinic all to myself on the weekends fostered a more relaxing environment for me to put into practice what I had been observing and learning. Lastly persevere, as stressful as it might seem at first, everything will become second nature after the first few months.

As a future dental school applicant, there is another stage in your journey that you have to treat with just as much perseverance and effort. These being the months you will dedicate to studying for the Dental Admission Test (DAT). If you are working full time, I suggest you start studying at least six months in advance, if you are a part timer, three months should do it. There is a lot to cover for this exam, but the perceptual ability section is the one section that you must start studying from day one. With nothing to memorize, this section will test your spatial ability and reasoning; therefore, it all comes down to constant practice. One hour a day until the day of your exam should be ample time to get yourself ready.

Finally, once you have taken the DAT and you have yourself some dental assistant experience, now is the time to apply to specific programs. There are 67 dental schools in the United States, find out which ones you would like to attend, and be realistic about your chances of getting in. A simple way to gauge your chances is to visit the admissions site of the schools you are interested in applying and look at their statistics of incoming students, this should give you an idea of where you stand. Another thing to keep in mind when applying, is to always apply to all your instate schools, as they tend to give priority to instate applicants. Lastly, if you do get an interview do not stress too much about it. They know you have what it takes to make it in their program, all you have to do is show them who you truly are while letting your passion for dentistry flow through.

Salvador Alvarado


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