Tips From Current D.D.S. and Dental Hygiene Students

Study Tips and Adjusting to Dental School

Posted by Elyse Estra on September 26, 2022

Whether you’re beginning a predoctoral program leading to a D.M.D. or D.D.S. degree or beginning an allied dental health program leading to a degree in dental hygiene, assisting, therapy or laboratory technology—welcome to the start of your dental school journey.

The adjustment to dental school is exciting, yet seemingly familiar. The first day of school means new faces, new lockers, new classrooms and a new workload. You’ve handled this before! Make a friend, ask for directions and welcome each day with an open mind. Three years into my own dental school journey, these are the things I continue to remind myself.


Accept the Challenges That Each Day Brings

I am the first to say that dental school is tough. For me, it means earlier mornings, some late nights and the occasional weekend dedicated to the library or preclinical simulation laboratory. You worked hard to get here, and you will continue to work hard to succeed. Accept the challenges of becoming the best health care provider you can be. Scoring 100s on every exam will not make you a good health care provider. Asking questions, recognizing your limitations and learning from your mistakes will make you better for your future patients. Do your best each day, but also be kind to yourself! You will have challenging days, so acknowledge them, work through them and know they will only make you stronger 

Establish a Support System—Both In and Out of School

No one understands dental school quite like your classmates do. They’re up late studying for the same oral pathology exam. They’re in the lab working on the same overdue project. Your classmates are an important support system—not your competition. Treat them with respect and celebrate their victories as your own. I know my friends from dental school will be my friends for life. 

It is equally important to establish a support system outside of school too. For me, that’s my family and childhood friends. As much as your dental school friends understand the difficulties each day brings, life exists outside of school. You have hobbies, interests and friends from before. Don’t lose touch with the things and people that matter most. 

Set Goals and Prioritize What Leads You to Them 

Beginning dental school can be overwhelming. There are so many academic, extracurricular and social opportunities. It is not possible to do it all. You have to learn how to say no, without fear of disappointing yourself or others.

How do you choose what to prioritize? Define goals you hope to accomplish over the short and long terms. These can be academic or professional goals, or perhaps wellness or social goals. When faced with an opportunity, ask yourself, how will this contribute to or further my goals? Try your best at what fits in, or otherwise move on and recognize more good things will come your way. 

You May Need to Change How You Study

Although you’ve taken challenging undergraduate courses and fulfilled intensive shadowing requirements to be accepted to dental school, the vigor of dental school is quite real. At most dental schools during your first year, you’ll take classes in the following:

  • Biomedical and social sciences,
  • Dental sciences and
  • Preclinical simulation laboratories.

The biomedical and social sciences will provide the foundational knowledge needed to understand your patients’ systemic health. The dental sciences will serve as the linkage between oral health and systemic health and help build the diagnostic toolkit needed as a dental provider. The preclinical simulation laboratories will provide opportunity to strengthen your technical and hands-on skills. Together, your first year of dental school will serve as the framework to provide evidence-based, comprehensive care across a medically diverse range of patients. 

You may find that you need to change the way you study. This will take some trial and error. You’ll find your exams to be comprehensive—more than just “recognition” or “recall.” Take time for the application and long-term storage of course material. Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need; I always give myself double the time I think I’ll need. Find a study-buddy and quiz each other. Reach out to faculty for extra help; they want to help. You will get through this! 

Finally, recognize your transition to dental school will take time. There’s no best way to prepare for your adjustment. Approach each day with an open mind, accept its challenges and think ahead to its rewards. Sooner than you know, you’ll have the opportunity to care for your own patients and make a positive impact on their lives. All your hard work in dental school will make this all worth it. 

About Elyse Estra :

Elyse Estra_headshot

Elyse Estra  
Third-year Dental Student 
University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine

Elyse Estra is a third-year dental student at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine. Her interests include equitable and affordable health care access, the relationship between oral health and overall health and curricula advances in dental education. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking (and eating) delicious vegetarian meals, petting animals and spending time with family.