Manual Dexterity 101

Dental school is a demanding environment that involves seamlessly blending science and art while developing, mastering and demonstrating prowess in a variety of areas—including manual dexterity. Understanding the significance of manual dexterity to dental careers will help students reconfirm if dentistry is the right fit.

What is manual dexterity?
Manual dexterity is the ability to use your hands in a skillful, coordinated way to grasp and manipulate objects and demonstrate small, precise movements.

Why do dental schools care about my manual dexterity skills?
To perform dental procedures, a dentist must demonstrate strong precision skills on an extremely small scale. Additionally, superior eye-hand coordination is critical to ensuring the safety of patients and the integrity of the profession.

Is it important to fine tune my manual dexterity skills before applying to dental school?
Yes! The Dental Admission Test (DAT) contains a section that specifically tests this skill, and during on-campus interviews, most dental school admissions staff will ask you to discuss how you’ve developed your manual dexterity skills.

If you find you do not enjoy working with your hands, it may be an indication that you could find becoming a dentist a frustrating experience, as these kinds of activities will consume a large portion of your time as a practicing dentist. Making this determination before entering (and paying for) dental school is a wise idea.

What are some things I can do to refine my manual dexterity skills?
The following is list of activities that could be useful in fine-tuning your motor skills. This is not an exhaustive list:

  •  Drawing
  • Painting
  • Woodcarving
  • Creating 3-D artwork through jewelry-making, sculpting or ceramics
  • Soap carving
  • Sewing/needlepoint
  • Cross-stitching
  • Crocheting
  • Knitting
  • Learning to tie fish knots
  • Learning a musical instrument that requires extensive hand-eye coordination (e.g., piano, violin)

The sooner you start becoming more skillful with your hands, the more advanced you will be when this part of your dental school education begins.