Dental Career

What Are the Skills Needed to Be a Dentist?

Dental Career

What Are the Skills Needed to Be a Dentist?

Dentist cleaning child's teeth white mom and hygienist watch.

There are a few skills you likely already know you’ll need to be a dentist. You’ll need to know how to repair a broken tooth, prepare for a filling, and how to treat infected teeth. Isn’t that all there is to it? Not exactly. There are many skills needed to be a dentist, which we’ll cover in this article.

Must-Have Dental Skills for Success

  • Manual Dexterity: Beyond knowing the steps for treating caries and fractures, you will need the physical ability to execute those techniques as well. That means excellent fine motor skills and manual dexterity. While each person may be born with a natural inclination in this area, you can improve on it with hand-eye coordination exercises and activities. Knitting, cross-stitch, and writing in a mirror are all great exercises to help dexterity.
  • Problem Solving: Dentistry is a constant puzzle. You will need to think on your feet and adjust your trajectory at a moment’s notice. Great treatment planning means organizing procedures by level of urgency, as well as addressing your patient’s financial and physical limitations. You’ll need to troubleshoot in the moment when procedures don’t go to plan, and work around limitations as they come up. Work on your adaptability and stay sharp with brain games, crosswords, and other puzzle-based activities
  • Communication: One of your main jobs as a dentist will be educating your patients. You’ll need to help them understand why they need recommended treatments and educate them on how to improve their oral health at home. Beyond that, your career will depend heavily on your team. Great communication with your assistant, hygienists, office manager, and entire team can make or break your practice.
  • Time Management: This is one of the most difficult skills for new dentists to master. You will need to learn how to work efficiently, executing each movement without unneeded steps. This will hinge largely on your ability to communicate well with your assistant and your team. Over time, you’ll learn how to manage each step of a procedure, how to stagger treatments, and how to be in three places at once. With attention and careful planning, you’ll master this skill in no time.

You Will Leave Dental School with a Good Foundation

Newcomers to the field may feel nervous, especially during their first few days and weeks on the job. That’s why Community Dental Partners works hard to give our new doctors their best possible start with our team. With dental mentorship, team building, and humanitarian outreach, we ensure you’ll put your best foot forward. You may feel like you need to put on a confident face for your coworkers, but don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Part of building a partnership of trust involves letting yourself be vulnerable. You’ll have plenty of support here at CDP!

Dr. Lindsay Cua, CDP dentist, and team member put it this way: “I have access to a lot of mentors who can help me – especially pediatric treatment planning. I have someone who can give me tips on how to plan a treatment, answer my questions, and push me to try new things. I’m getting more and more comfortable as I’m gaining confidence in my clinical skills and working towards being the dentist I want to become.”

Trust that dental school has set you up with a strong foundation to build on. Yes, there will be a learning curve to your first dental job, but you know what you’re doing. You’ve passed clinicals, you’ve taken the Board Exams, and you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t prepared to be an excellent doctor. Experience will inform and deepen what you learned in school and allow you to improve faster than you might think possible.

That being said, come to your first job ready to learn. Take notes on areas where you’re struggling and discuss them with your mentor. Stay humble and open to critique and feedback. You will make mistakes. Not everything will go perfectly. And that’s okay! It’s how you respond to those setbacks that will determine your trajectory.

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Essential Soft Skills Needed to Be a Dentist

Beyond technical knowledge and hands-on skills, you will also need some so-called soft skills. These are the skills that don’t show up on the Boards; the things you can’t learn in a textbook. But that doesn’t make them any less important to your future as a great dentist!

Beyond the Basics: What They Didn’t Teach You in Dental School

While we listed some necessary skills above—communication, problem-solving—there are so many intangible elements to becoming a truly great dentist with the potential to have profound positive effects on your patients’ lives.

  • Compassion: Your patients may not always be eager to see you. They may be experiencing pain, shame, and fear. Compassion—empathetic concern for the suffering of others—separates average dentists from amazing doctors. It can be hard to put your ego aside and not take rude, dismissive, or aggressive behavior personally. If needed, talking to a professional counselor can set you up with a great toolbox for acting with compassion in every situation.
  • Leadership: Whether you’re on a practice ownership track or plan to work as an associate long term, your role as a dentist means that you will be a leader. How effective you are as a leader will hinge largely on the earlier-mentioned skills of compassion and communication. You will need to communicate effectively with your team and have compassion for what they’re going through. There are always plenty of classes and books about learning to be a great leader, but always remember that great leadership means mutual respect and a feeling of shared ownership in how your practice runs. 
  • Focus and Energy: Call it enthusiasm for the job. Dentistry demands long hours in the chair, doing physical labor. It can be described as a blue collar/white collar job. You will need to maintain focus on intricate, detailed procedures, sometimes for hours at a time. Maintaining energy during your working day can be a challenge if you don’t love the work. Be sure you’re working toward great work/life balance to stay engaged, and do some strength and flexibility training to maintain the health of your body—especially your spine!
Family Smiles dentist giving young female child a high five. Working with children is one of many soft skills needed to be a dentist.

Never Stop Honing Your Dental Skills

Perhaps one of the key skills needed to be a dentist is the love of learning. You will continue learning throughout your career. While you may see graduation as the end of your education, the first two years in the field will provide more learning opportunities than what you gained during clinicals. In fact, some new doctors choose to put off starting work in favor of advanced dental training. However, learning is an integral part of dentistry that never really ends. “There’s so much opportunity to learn and grow,” says Dr. Cua. “Since I’ve graduated, I’ve seen myself improve in terms of speed and working with others. I’ve also improved my patient communication as that is key in building relationships with those in the chair as well as the parents who are bringing in their children.”

Dental technology is constantly evolving, and new techniques frequently come to the surface. To stay competitive, you will need to learn how to incorporate new instruments and techniques into your daily practice. This is part of the reason Continuing Education credits are required to maintain your license. The cutting-edge knowledge you graduated with may become outdated before you know it, so be ready to be a lifelong learner.

Fortunately, CDP supports our dentists in learning by facilitating CE hours and sometimes even offering financial support for new skills. Take it from Dr. Cua: “The support that I’ve received is unmatched! I love the culture, the people, and I absolutely love the company!” Schedule a call with a Recruiting Manager to learn more about improving your skills needed to be a dentist at CDP!

Dr. Craig Copeland
Dr. Craig Copeland Chief Dental Officer Community Dental Partners

A graduate of Brigham Young University’s Business Finance department and the University of Florida’s College of Dentistry, Dr. Craig Copeland, DMD first joined Community Dental Partners (CDP) in 2010, after co-founder Dr. Chad Evans invited him to an interview.

He instantly fell in love with CDP’s mission to elevate dentistry, make great dental care accessible, and provide unique and amazing experiences for underserved communities. The organization’s culture aligned with his own beliefs and he knew that CDP would offer him the ideal environment in which to grow.

Today, Dr. Copeland is the Chief Dental Officer of Community Dental Partners and focuses on helping CDP’s doctors exceed in their careers, through mentorship, training, and strengthening CDP’s support systems.

Dr. Copeland lives in Texas with his family: his wife and four children. He’s an avid sports fan, and supporting his children in their activities, such as basketball, gymnastics, and soccer, keeps him busy. He also likes to travel to new places with his family whenever he can.

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