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The Experience Dental Students Get Before They See Real Patients

Many people are skeptical about visiting dental schools to receive dental care because they are worried about a lack of experience on the student’s part.

Dental Student Working on a MannequinI won’t lie: dental student’s are not as experienced as most general dentists.  However, that doesn’t mean that the quality of care is any lower.  Dental students spend much more time with each patient to compensate for their lack of experience.  I think this puts our quality of care on par with private dental practices.

As a first and second year dental student, I had the opportunity to take a variety of hands-on classes that allowed me to practice and perfect my clinical skills.

The Hands-On Courses I Took Before Seeing Patients In Dental School

Here’s a list of the hands-on courses that I took in dental school before seeing real humans in the clinic.  We also had regular lectures in these classes where we learned about the academic theories involved in each of these subjects.

Introduction to Dentistry – In this class we got acquainted with our fake dental patient, which consisted of a plastic head with a metal jaw and two full arches of teeth.  This was attached to a body that would recline in a normal position (see picture.)  We also drilled and filled our first tooth with amalgam.  The results weren’t too encouraging, as none of us had much experience at drilling teeth.  We also learned how to take impressions of each other’s teeth (we did this on classmates) and then made mouthguards and custom whitening trays.

The Plastic Teeth Dental Students Work On
Here’s the plastic teeth I worked on my first two years of dental school

Amalgam Restorations – This was our first class where we really learned how to drill.  I remember staying late into the night several times learning the different techniques for drilling into various teeth.  We drilled and filled dozens of teeth with amalgam.  We also applied medications to teeth where we drilled pretty deep to remove all of the “decay.”

Composite Restorations – This was our second class dealing with fillings.  We filled every type of tooth with almost every imaginable type of composite filling.  We did composite veneers, which can repair teeth that have been chipped or stained.  We also filled diastemas (a space between the two front teeth that many people find less-than-attractive.)

Occlusion – In this class we learned all about how the jaws fit together.  We got to take impressions of our fellow students’ teeth, pour plaster stone into the impressions to make dental casts, and then mount the casts on articulators.  An articulator is just a simple machine on which you can mount dental casts.  It simulates the human jaw movements.  It is useful for figuring out the right shape and size to make crowns so that they fit in with the rest of the teeth and aren’t too high or low.

Dental Student Working on a Mannequin
Here I am working on my plastic patient. I drilled my first tooth in September of 2008. This picture was during my last practical exam in June 2010.

Dentures I – In this class we had a fake patient without any teeth.  We got to take impressions of their mouth, make plaster casts and mount them on articulators.  Then, we ended up making a set of dentures.  My favorite part of this class was that we got divided into small groups and we were assigned a patient who couldn’t afford dentures but needed them.  Then, under the supervision of a dentist, we were able to make a set of dentures for this patient.  I still remember how happy our patient was with his new set of dentures.

Dentures II – In this class, we learned how to make removable partial dentures.  This type of dentures is ideal for patients who are missing a few to several teeth.  Removable partial dentures are much more stable than regular full dentures since they have teeth to anchor them down and support them.

Pediatric Dentistry – This was a fun lab.  We got a small set of fake teeth to work on that were child-sized.  We did amalgam restorations and made a space maintainer.  The second part of this course involved working on each other.  We got to do cleanings on each other, do fluoride treatments, and apply sealants to our classmates’ teeth.

Fixed Partial Dentures I – In this class we learned the techniques for preparing teeth to receive crowns.  We also learned how to make temporary crowns, which the patient receives as an interim crown before their permanent crown is made by the dental lab.

Fixed Partial Dentures II – In this course, we went beyond the basic single-unit crowns and started cutting teeth to receive bridges.  We also learned how to make temporary bridges to give to the patient so that they can chew normally before their permanent crown gets made by the dental lab.  We also expanded our prosthodontic skill-set by cutting more challenging crown preparations for different situations.  One of my favorite parts of this course was cutting teeth for a bridge.

Fixed Partial Dentures III – In our final prosthodontic lab class, we cut teeth for veneers.  Veneers can be used to cover stained teeth, or teeth that are slightly chipped.  Also, if someone has a large space between their two front teeth, veneers can be used to fill in that space, giving that person a better overall appearance.

Local Anesthesia – In this class we got to learn about all the different types of injections and injection techniques to numb patients so that they don’t feel the procedures that we do on them.  We got to practice on our fellow classmates…  Now I know exactly what many of the injections feel like when given by inexperienced dental students!

Restorative Dentistry Review – Since we hadn’t done fillings in quite a while (our amalgam and composite labs were at the beginning of dental school), we had a nice review course this past semester where we got to do all sorts of amalgam fillings and composite fillings.  This helped us refine our technique and get comfortable with fillings before we go into the clinic.

Other Clinical Experiences – Throughout the first two years, we assisted in the clinic a lot!  We got to see many procedures.  We also had certain requirements we had to pass off such as taking impressions of patients’ teeth, doing a few new patient screenings, as well as helping to do fillings.  A couple of months ago, we got to do cleanings on teenagers who could come into the school for a free cleaning.  This helped me get valuable hands-on experience and got us more used to working on real people.


With all of these courses, you can rest assured that the dental student seeing you has probably already done the same procedure on many other teeth before he or she sees you as a patient.

It’s kind of like when you go to see a piano recital – the pianist performing has practiced the piece they will play over and over and has had many rehearsals to prepare for the recital.  Although the recital may be the first time they perform it with an audience, they know the piece well and have prepared carefully.

The same is true when you receive care at a dental school.  The student has practiced many times and has prepared carefully and has even probably been through a few “recitals” with an actual patient.  You can feel safe knowing they are competent enough to care for you.  And as an added assurance, all the work they do is supervised by an expert dentist who instructs them and oversees all of their work.



  1. Hello! May i ask if there is a shrinkage for polyvenilsiloxane impression material? If so, can i still pour die stone after a week?
    Thank you! Hope for your immediate reply.


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