Updated: Aug 23
Taking a Gap Year
While I knew I wanted to take a gap year to take the DAT and apply for dental school, I originally had no idea what I was going to do with my year off. After attempting to take grueling Organic Chemistry during my senior year, I ultimately decided to drop orgo, enjoy my senior year, and take it the summer after I graduated. I ended up needing to take two years off to finish Orgo I and II. I now had two years of time to fill with a meaningful (money-making) experience, and during the height of COVID in the summer of 2020, I was nervous to expose myself to aerosols in a dental office. I started applying to corporate jobs but knew I wouldn’t be happy in those positions. I ultimately took the leap and started working at the dental office in my small hometown, and I am so glad I did. I truly had the most enriching two years I could have had, that truly prepared me to start dental school and become a practitioner. My biggest advice is to get prior dental experience! Work as a dental assistant or a front desk receptionist! Get time with the doctor, and watch all the procedures your doctor does! While I do believe that mentorships are one of the best ways to spend gap years, here are some things to keep in mind to get the most out of your experience!
While working day to day with your doctors, you are able to see every way they perform a procedure, what happens when they hit a roadblock and how they work through it. This is the best time to ask questions if you can. Even during a procedure, if you don’t want to ask in front of the patient, write down your questions to ask later. I asked every question imaginable, and I soaked everything up like a sponge! You will learn things like why doctors would choose to use Zirconia crowns as opposed to Emax or PFM! Ask questions! No matter how “silly” you think they are, you will remember these facts during dental school, and it will help you in classes and in the clinic!
During my two years, I worked with many different types of patients. You will learn that dentists are like part-time psychologists. There is a huge psychological component to dentistry because there is so much anxiety, stress, and pain associated with going to the dentist for all ages. This is your time as a dental assistant to observe how the doctor interacts with patients of all demeanors. I found that the best way to ease a patient’s mind is to find a way to form a connection with them, something you both can talk about. That will allow them to feel more at ease in the chair because you have bonded with them! I would find out about their favorite hobbies, kids, grandkids, their pets, and find a way to connect with them and make them smile. If you get a chance to connect, they will always remember you and have a positive incentive to come to the dentist because they get to talk to you! I had many favorite patients that I got to know in my two years, and I was incredibly sad to say goodbye to them! It makes me look forward to having my own patients as a practitioner and seeing them progress through their lives as my patients! That is the best part about being a dentist! You work with your patients for a lifetime, if you build a good relationship with them!
You'll Get Different Perspectives
I was very grateful to be able to work with two different dentists during my time assisting. You will see that dentists complete procedures in different ways, depending on their training. You can learn things from each and every one of them, younger and older! You will learn that just because one dentist does a chamfer and one does a shoulder crown prep, it doesn’t mean that one of them is wrong, it is just another way for you to expose yourself to all the different techniques of completing procedures! You should look for a practice to work at that has at least two dentists you can assist! It is always good to learn from multiple experts in the field!
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
My biggest words of advice are to try to help with everything that you possibly can! If implants scare you, assist with that procedure! If extractions scare you, assist with that procedure! If Botox and Juvederm and anesthetic injections scare you, assist with these procedures! It is a bit of exposure therapy that will help you get out of your comfort zone! I know that before I started watching and assisting in implant procedures, I was terrified. The thought of a metal screw being drilled into someone’s mouth scared me, but now it's my favorite procedure to watch and assist with, and I would have never become interested in implant dentistry if I didn’t get my feet wet and jump in!
Remember, if you get to take a gap year or gap years, this is your opportunity to learn as much as you can, but also take time for yourself! If you love to travel, travel as much as you can! If you love to read but didn’t have time to read for leisure in college, read as many books as your heart desires. If you didn’t have time in college to do things like cook, bake, make art, or take up a sport, do it! Find a new hobby, and enjoy yourself! This is your time to enjoy your free time before the rigor of dental school starts. Learn as much as you can, but also enjoy every single day! If anyone has any questions, please feel free to message me on my Instagram @thesweettoothlife ! Good luck, and enjoy your gap year!
What questions do you have about gap years? Do you plan on taking one? If you took one, would you recommend it to others as well? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!