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What will you study as a dental student?

What will you study as a dental student?
Photograph of a female student in a library reading a book
© University of Glasgow

A big part of learning to be a dentist is being taught the hands-on skills to examine a patient and carry out dental treatment. However, if this was all you learned then you wouldn’t be a very good dentist.

The General Dental Council (GDC) sets out the outcomes that must be satisfied before an individual can register as a dentist.

“The aim is to develop a rounded professional who, in addition to being a competent clinician and /or technician, will have the range of professional skills required to begin working as part of a dental team and be well prepared for independent practice”. (GDC)

There are four main domains outlined in the GDC’s Preparing for Practice Document

  • Clinical
  • Professional
  • Communication
  • Leadership and Management

We will cover each of these and discuss how relate to what you will study at Dental School.


The clinical domain, as you would expect, is the biggest part of any undergraduate dental curiculum. You will learn underpinning sciences such as general human physiology, anatomy, disease and how they relate to the mouth. This will also include the science behind the different materials that are used by dentists and the physics involved in creating dental x-rays. You will learn how to diagnosis and manage different diseases of the teeth, jaw bones and lining of the mouth.

You will learn about prevention of dental disease and other public health problems. Infection control is a vital part of dental training including the different ways that infection can be transmitted and how it can be stopped including the decontamination of dental equipment. You will be taught how to administer dental local anaesthetic injections and how to ‘restore’ teeth with dental decay (caries). You will learn when and how to remove teeth and how they are replaced. You will learn about evidence-based dentistry which involves learning the skills to read and critical appraise scientific papers so that you can decide what the best way is to manage your patients in the future.


You will learn about the ethical and legal obligations of being a dentist and the importance of putting patients interests first. You will be introduced to other members of the dental team and how you can work as a team to provide the best care to your patients. You will learn how to be a reflective practitioner which is all about looking back on what you have done, reflecting on what went well and what could be improved in an attempt to improve future practice. Things go wrong in dentistry, and you will be taught what do in these situations including the importance of patient safety and how to raise concerns about your own or other’s health, professional behaviour or performance. As a dentist you will come into contact with children and vulnerable adults. For this reason, child protection and safeguarding vulnerable adults, including issues such as domestic abuse, will be covered.


You will be introduced to behavioural sciences and how to communicate with patients and the dental team. Patients tend to be nervous about attending the dentist and you will be taught how to manage dental anxiety. A big part of being a dentist is motivating your patients about their oral hygiene and diet habits and these skills will be covered. Consent is all about explaining options, usually for treatment, including the benefits, risks and alternatives available to patients. This is a very important skill to learn as well as how to clearly explain information to patients who will have varying degrees of understanding.

Leadership and Management

As a dentist you will have a leadership role whether it be as the leader in your own surgery room, a practice principal, or a consultant. You will study leadership and what makes a good leader. From time-to-time patients will complain about their care so you will also find out how to manage complaints and you will study the various regulatory and legal requirements of your practice. You will learn about the importance of healthcare improvement, particularly how we monitor our own and others practice and how we can improve the care we deliver to our patients – this is called quality improvement.

© University of Glasgow
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Becoming a Dentist

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