Dentistry is hugely competitive.
Preparation can help you stand out from the other applicants.
In this article we’ll look at some example dental school interview questions from different topics, providing advice on how to approach them, with a model answer for each.
Question: “Why do you want to study dentistry?”
'I first became interested in dentistry as a way to both learn and apply sciences. Dentistry has many opportunities for research and academia, but at the same time you can apply your scientific knowledge in practical situations, whilst prioritising and problem solving.
Dentistry also provides an opportunity for lifelong learning, something that inspires and excites me. My work experience in a local dental practice gave me a deeper insight into what the career involves, and I witnessed how the dentists were continuously attending conferences, revising their assumptions and learning new techniques. Lifelong learning is something I aspire to, and I already read widely to challenge my assumptions about dentistry.
My reading and work experience has taught me about the people-focussed side of the career. Dentists don’t just deal with pure science and manual dexterity but must also interact with a huge variety of different people. The dentist I was shadowing had been in the practice for over a decade and I saw the strong rapport she’d built up with her patients over the years.
This ties in with the fact that dentists can have a real impact on the lives of a great many people, all through the astute application of science. I saw this very clearly during my work experience, as emergency treatments alleviated long-term pain for some patients. This was something I found very exciting.
Overall, I think that the blend of evidence-based science and interaction with real people is what attracts me to dentistry, and has meant that I look at it as a lifelong vocation.'
Question: 'What personal qualities do you have that will make you a good dentist?'
This question tests both your self-awareness and insight into dentistry.
'One personal quality I have that would make me a better dentist is my empathy.
I demonstrated my empathy by volunteering at my local beaver scout group, and I remember a time when a new member of the group was struggling to fit in.
I noticed him sitting at the side, isolated from the other members and went over to chat with him, empathising with his feelings of isolation and worry. I remembered feeling a similar way when I joined the group.
We sat and chatted for a long time - I validated his negative feelings and encouraged him to put himself out there. I was very pleased to arrive at the group the next week to see him having fun with the other members.
I learned the importance of empathy in making people feel listened to and creating close bonds. The rapport I built up with the child as a result of my empathy was what allowed me to encourage and advise him to such great effect.
This is particularly useful in dentistry, as I saw during one of my work experience placements. A young child had come in to have an extra tooth removed and I could tell that she was very nervous about the procedure. The dentist took the time to sit down, chat about what she was feeling and empathise with her. I saw how this made her more relaxed and happy to go ahead with the operation.
This experience also showed me the value of good communication skills, which allowed the dentist to get his message across. As a result of her age, this child required a more basic level of communication. The dentist spoke more slowly, using clear and concise language and verbal cues.
This skill is something that I believe I demonstrated when I took on a volunteering role in an elderly care home. Just like with the young child, many of the residents had communication difficulties as a result of deafness or dementia and I had to adjust my style in order to communicate clearly.
As a dentist, this would be particularly important, as I would have to speak with a wide variety of patients.'
Question: “Can you tell me about your understanding of dental caries?”
'My understanding is that dental caries are another word for tooth decay. This refers to the breakdown of tooth enamel due to the production of acid by bacteria on the teeth.
It is one of the most common complaints dentists face, and during my work experience I saw how often the dentist I was shadowing had to deal with patients experiencing tooth decay.
It is a preventable condition and patients can reduce their risk of developing caries by complying with basic dental hygiene, such as flossing, brushing twice a day and frequently visiting their dentist. Water fluoridation is a public health measure that has been shown to reduce the incidence of dental caries.'
Question: 'Can you tell me about some of the negative aspects of being a dentist?'
'During my work experience in a dental hospital I was exposed to some of the challenges of being a dentist.
I really noticed the weight of responsibility. Mistakes could have consequences for the patient’s health and even your own ability to practise.
Even in a routine checkup you have to be on the lookout for certain diseases, such as gum disease, so you have to be on top form all the time to provide the best treatment for every patient.
I’ve tried to work on addressing this difficulty by taking on a job helping out in a watch repair shop - not only did this help me improve my manual dexterity, but I got used to being in situations where I had to remain focussed and avoid mistakes, and I have definitely grown a lot more comfortable in these situations.
Now I actually thrive on this type of pressure. It keeps me focussed and means that I don’t cut corners or zone out, which will only lead to better results for patients. I hope to be able to maintain this mindset into dental school.
Dentists are also often given quite short amounts of time with individual patients and I noticed during my work experience how dentists had to keep track of time and work effectively. This could be a source of stress, but again, I’ve tried to address this in advance by improving my time management and organisation skills. I did this over the exam leave before my A-Level mocks, by creating detailed timetables mapping out my day and trying to remain organised and keep to the timetable throughout my revision period.
This experience taught me a number of useful techniques for managing my time. Being aware of these negative aspects of dentistry has not discouraged me from pursuing it as a career, but has helped me feel more confident that I will be able to cope with the challenges when the time comes.'
Question: “Do you think that all dental appointments and procedures should be free on the NHS?”
'In England, the NHS is free to a few individuals, including pregnant women, under 18s and those receiving low income benefits.
It is well known that there is an oral health crisis, with many thousands of patients attending already-crowded A&Es with dental problems.
Making dental treatment free could reduce this number, meaning that A&E departments would have more time and resources to devote to other cases. Those with dental problems could be seen by specialists straight away.
Even in non-emergency cases, free dental treatment would hopefully encourage individuals to attend routine check-ups, which are crucial to spot dental health problems earlier on and treat them quickly. This could ultimately save money.
However, there are disadvantages to the free approach. One that isn’t often appreciated is that free dental treatment doesn’t necessarily mean that people will all attend a check-up. Many patients have had negative experiences with dentists in the past, or may not feel the need if they don’t have a tangible problem. Other people might work long hours or live far away from an NHS practice.
Of course the main issue is that all this money would need to come from somewhere, and with the NHS already critically underfunded it is unlikely that a suitable amount of money could be found. When you consider that this investment might not even address the underlying cause of the oral health crisis, it seems like too risky an investment.
This is why I believe that dental treatment should not be made free on the NHS. Research has shown that people avoid seeking dental care for a huge variety of reasons - not just because it costs too much. I think that the problem would be better addressed through a public health campaign, which would not only have a bigger impact - in my opinion - but would also be much cheaper to run.'
Avoid cliché and describe your motivations for wanting to study dentistry. Admissions tutors hear hundreds of responses to the same questions, so stand out by giving your answers some serious thought.
Anecdotes can be a powerful way of exemplifying a point and explaining your motivations, but be sure to think them through fully.
Consider how to show your interest in science, dentistry and working with people. And don’t just say it; evidence it.
If you haven't already, read our general guide on the dentistry interview process for tips and tricks on how to approach the interview process.
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